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Optometrist Warns UV Damage Could Cause Ocular Melanoma

Optometrist Warns Summer UV Damage Could Cause Ocular Melanoma

A new campaign is underway to raise awareness of the dangers of ocular melanoma due to UV damage.

According to the Cancer Society, people are affected by ocular melanoma every year in New Zealand, and it’s more likely to affect people with light-coloured eyes and in older age groups.

While the exact cause of ocular melanoma is not known, it’s believed that sun exposure and the subsequent UV damage to the eyes could be a cause.

Research* shows around 90 percent of all skin cancers occur above the neck, an area which represents between 5-10 percent of our total skin area. More than 4,000 people are diagnosed with either melanoma in situ or invasive melanoma annually.

Optometrist Bruce Nicholls says ocular melanomas are particularly dangerous because they are usually unable to be seen with the naked eye.

“Nobody is immune from UV damage. Most of us have experienced sunburn and we feel it straight away,” says Nicholls, of Nicholls & Associates Optometrists in Auckland.

“The problem with melanoma in the eye is that you are unlikely to know you have it until your optometrist detects it.”

While Kiwis are generally aware of the need to protect their skin with sunscreen, many don’t think about how exposed their eyes and the skin around their eyes is to potential damage, says Nicholls.

“The signs of UV damage to the eyes vary. It can show as a changing spot on the eyelids, a redness to the surface of the eye, or the retina at the back of the eye could be developing a melanoma.”

Treatments for ocular melanoma include external and internal radiation of the cancer and/or surgery. In some cases, the whole eye may need to be removed.

Nicholls says he has detected several retinal melanomas in his career, and while most have been treated successfully, it’s important for New Zealanders to be aware of the potential danger and do all they can to protect their eyes from our high UV levels throughout summer.

“What we need to remember is that UV light damages the human body, and nobody is immune to it. As well as ocular melanoma, it’s believed cataract and macular degeneration conditions can also be triggered by UV light exposure, and by the time they are picked up the damage is often done.”

Eye health exams with an optometrist at least every two years are essential to monitor any changes that could signal one of these diseases, but it’s equally important to try to prevent harm to your eyes in the first place.

“Protecting your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV radiation is important at all ages, but the earlier you start the better,” advises Nicholls. “It's just as important to protect the young eyes of toddlers playing outside as it is to protect their grandparents watching.”

Nicholls recommends wearing wrap-around UV-blocking sunglasses which stop harmful light entering the eye from the front, above and sides any time you are outside or in direct sunlight, including when driving.

“We enjoy an outdoor lifestyle in New Zealand, and we can't eliminate all exposure to the sun, but we need to protect where we can,” says Nicholls.

“Optometrists have a range of lens and coating options for sunglasses that will protect your eyes, and even clear prescription lenses can now be treated to block harmful UV light with an e-SPF 25 protection rating.”

The awareness campaign is being supported by a new partnership between the Cancer Society of New Zealand and ophthalmic lens manufacturer Essilor.

The Cancer Society advises people to look for Cancer Society Approved eyewear and clear lens UV coatings which provide the highest level of eye protection front and back to protect their eyes and vision.


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