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Ultraviolet Radiation as a Risk Factor for Cataract and Macular Degeneration

Roberts, Joan E Ph.D.

doi: 10.1097/ICL.0b013e31821cbcc9
Review

The human eye is constantly exposed to sunlight and artificial lighting. Light transmission through the eye is fundamental to its unique biological functions of directing vision and circadian rhythm, and therefore, light absorbed by the eye must be benign. However, exposure to the intense ambient radiation can pose a hazard particularly if the recipient is over 40 years of age. This radiation exposure can lead to impaired vision and transient or permanent blindness.

Both ultraviolet-A (UV-A) and UV-B induce cataract formation and are not necessary for sight. Ultraviolet radiation is also a risk factor for damage to the retinas of children. The removal of these wavelengths from ocular exposure will greatly reduce the risk of early cataract and retinal damage. One way this may be easily done is by wearing sunglasses that block wavelengths below 400 nm (marked 400 on the glasses). However, because of the geometry of the eye, these glasses must be wraparound sunglasses to prevent reflective UV radiation from reaching the eye. Additional protection may be offered by contact lenses that absorb significant amounts of UV radiation.

In addition to UV radiation, short blue visible light (400-440 nm) is a risk factor for the adult human retina. This wavelength of light is not essential for sight and not necessary for a circadian rhythm response. For those over 50 years old, it would be of value to remove these wavelengths of light with specially designed sunglasses or contact lenses to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

From the Department of Natural Sciences, Fordham University, NY.

The author has no financial/conflicts of interests to disclose.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Joan E. Roberts, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, Fordham University, 113 West 60th Street, New York City 10023, NY; e-mail: jroberts@fordham.edu

Accepted March 28, 2011.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.