Leading ophthalmologists have warned against constant and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, noting that it may lead to cataracts and macular degeneration.

They also said individuals who even had shorter exposure to the sun rays were at risk of sudden eye pain, tearing and blurred vision.

In separate interviews with PUNCH Healthwise, the eye doctors further noted that individuals with occupations that consistently expose them to UV rays are at risk of developing pterygium, over time.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, pterygium, also called Surfer’s eye, is the growth of a raised fleshy tissue that can remain small or grow large enough to cover a part of the cornea.

Several independent studies in Nigeria show that the prevalence rate of pterygium is between nine to 12.5 per cent and it is common among commercial motorcyclists, traders and most outdoor workers.

Research and other medical health blogs also linked long exposure to UV sun rays to risk factors for cataracts.

A health blog, Cleveland Clinic states that UV rays are a form of energy produced by the sun, which reaches the earth.

However, long exposure to sun rays can cause sunburn, premature ageing, skin problems and eye problems such as cataracts.

The AAO further defines cataracts as a condition where the eye lens becomes cloudy, leading to blurry and hazy vision.

The eye academy also notes that cataracts can result from ageing, a family history of the condition, diabetes, previous eye injury or surgeries, exposure to radiation through treatment or X-rays on the upper body and prolonged exposure to sun rays without wearing protective sunglasses.

The Ophthalmic Society also notes that UV lights can harm one’s eyes and raise the risk of cataracts, growths on the eye and cancer.

According to a medical blog, Johns Hopkins Medicine, UV lights affect all the structures of the eyes and can eventually lead to decreased vision.

The Nigerian National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey stated that cataract was the commonest cause of severe visual impairment and blindness with a prevalence rate of 45.3 and 43 per cent, respectively.

The experts, however, noted that pterygium and cataracts could be treated.

Speaking on the issue, a professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Benin, Edo State, Afekhide Omoti, said ultraviolet rays from the sun can overtime, predispose the eyes to cataracts, corneal burns and age-related macular degeneration.

He also stated that constant stares at the sun could cause solar retinopathy, an injury or damage to the retina leading to blurry vision, vision loss or eye pain.

“While the effect of the sun in causing cataract and macular degeneration is from prolonged exposure, much shorter exposure can cause corneal burns or photokeratitis. Common symptoms of corneal burns or photokeratitis are sudden eye pain, tearing, blurred vision and photophobia following exposure to the sun. Fortunately, the eye can recover spontaneously when it is rested away from the sun. More severe cases may require padding the eye,” the don said.

Omoti, who is the Chairman of the National Eye Health Committee of Nigeria, also stated that there are reported cases of solar retinopathy in the country.

He, however, noted that most cases of cataracts and macular degeneration were fairly common among elderly patients, making it difficult to isolate exposure to sun rays as the primary causal factor of the eye ailment.

Omoti added, “One thing is definite – that prolonged exposure to Ultraviolet rays from the sun is a risk factor for cataract and macula degeneration in Nigeria like elsewhere worldwide, but it is not the only contributory factor. Another complication of prolonged exposure to Ultraviolet rays from the sun is pterygium, a degeneration of the conjunctiva that grows over the cornea.”

The Ophthalmologist further noted that long exposure to sun rays can also cause cancer of the eyes and eyelid skin, especially damage to the skin around the eyes.

He urged individuals who frequently work outdoors to make use of ultraviolet protective shades, hats or face caps.

“First of all, they must avoid gazing at the sun. That will prevent acute complications like solar Retinopathy and photokeratitis or corneal burns. Also, the use of a wide-brimmed hat and dark sunglasses with 100 per cent ultraviolet protection is very helpful. The use of sunscreen creams may also be beneficial for the skin. These are particularly important for outdoor workers,” the Ophthalmologist said.

Also, an Ophthalmologist and Senior Registrar at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr Bernadette Aghahon, averred that although cataracts could be congenital, age-related and caused by trauma, exposure to ultraviolet radiation due to X-ray exposure could also be a risk factor.

The Ophthalmologist further noted that long exposure to UV rays from the sun could cause pterygium.

She advised individuals constantly exposed to sunlight due to the nature of their job to get sun shades with protection against UV rays.

“Pterygium is a growth on the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a transparent membrane that covers the eye. It (pterygium) grows from the conjunctiva to the cornea. So, it’s a fleshy growth and it has some cosmetic implications. If it’s large, it can cause cosmetic issues and it can give patients discomfort, including a burning sensation and grittiness. They can also have redness, tearing, and all that. Some people just come (to the clinic) and say they’ve noticed this growth in their eye, or their relatives have told them that there’s this growth in their eye. So, they want to get it checked by a doctor,” Aghahon said.

The Ophthalmologist further noted that pterygium could be treated medically or surgically and advocated for the general protection of the eyes while outdoors.

She also advocated regular eye checks with an ophthalmologist, urging persons with eye issues to avoid self-medication and over-the-counter medications.

@ Punch Newspaper

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