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Winter UV Exposure Could Lead to Vision Loss, Cancer

Media Release: 01 May 2017

Winter UV Exposure Could Lead to Vision Loss, Cancer – Taranaki Optometrist Warns

Taranaki residents are being warned to be more vigilant about protecting their eyes in winter as lower sun angles and UV exposure on unprotected eyes put them at greater risk of cataracts, ocular melanoma, and skin cancers around the eyelids.

A Taranaki optometrist is calling on locals to do more to protect their eyes from UV exposure during winter, even though it appears the sun may not be at its strongest.

“Eyes are exposed to UV radiation every day of the year, and winter can be a more dangerous time than any other because of the lower angle of the sun in the sky,” says Phillipa Charteris, of Stratford Optometrists.

Despite UV levels being higher in spring and summer, eyes are naturally shaded during the hotter months as they are deep set - and thus partially protected when the sun is high in the sky. However, this means there can be more direct exposure on winter days when the sun sits lower.

Charteris says the risk is compounded by a more casual attitude towards SunSmart behaviour as the weather cools.

“People relax their guard in winter, thinking that the ambient temperature is equivalent to UV levels, however the increased UV exposure from activities near snow or water like skiing and fishing can contribute to an elevated risk of damage” she says.

“Summer messages for UV protection such as wearing sunglasses and hats are not in the front of their mind, but UV rays are still present and can still do harm.”

“Even people who are just out taking a walk every morning need to be aware of it,” she says.

Charteris says children are particularly in danger of UV exposure.

“Kids are especially at risk because they spend significant time outdoors playing and wear sun protective lenses much less commonly than adults do,” she says.

UV damage to eyes is cumulative and irreversible, and is believed to contribute to several serious eye conditions that can result in vision loss, including cataracts and corneal degeneration.

It is also considered a cause of ocular melanoma as well as skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids, which accounts for an estimated 5-10% of skin cancer patients.

Charteris adds that all Taranaki residents should put on their sunglasses when they are outdoors for any length of time.

“They should also ensure that if they wear prescription glasses, the lenses have an anti-reflective protective coating that prevents UVA and UVB rays from getting through,”

“Given the amount of outdoors time we spend, plus the in and out of office moments throughout the day that all add up in the long term, UV protection is essential in your glasses.” she says.

Charteris says the new Cancer Society of NZ ‘Look After Your Eyes with Crizal’ campaign recommends consumers take a number of steps to protect their eyesight - including using approved eyewear.

“There are a number of things we can do each day to prevent future vision loss; always wear UV protective eyewear when outside - all year round, make sure your glasses offer adequate protection – look for the Cancer Society of NZ brand and E-SPF rating.

“Be aware UV light bounces, so look for lenses that protect your eyes from UV light reflected off the back of your lenses too.

“Also it's important to get your eyes checked regularly by a professional - visit at least once every two years, or more frequently if recommended by your optometrist,” she says.

With an estimated 3 million people globally going blind every year due to prolonged UV exposure, it’s important for everyone to take further steps to look after their eyes, says Charteris.


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