M. Dinesh Varma

Exposure to excessive sunlight can contribute to cataract and macular degeneration

Children get three times more sun exposure as adults80 per cent of exposure occurs before 18 years Even on cloudy days, upto 80 per cent UV radiation filters through

CHENNAI: Wearing a cap or dark glasses in the sun has more to do with common sense than style .

Ophthalmologists have, therefore, advised people, extensively exposed to the sun, to sport protective gear that can minimise the harm caused to the eye from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Though it has been scientifically established that ultraviolet radiations contribute tohealth problems like skin cancer, cataract and macular disorders the indictment of ultraviolet radiation is tempered by the evidence of other equally important factors contributing to these disorders.

"It is difficult to quantify the damage from ultraviolet exposure alone in a condition like cataract because it is multifactorial," said Rajiv Raman, ophthalmologist at Sankara Nethralaya.

However, it has been proved that prolonged exposure to excessive sunlight can contribute to early onset of cataract and macular degeneration, both usually associated with ageing.

Other kinds of eye damage include pterygium (tissue growth that can block vision) and skin cancer around the eyes.

The damage caused due to the exposure to ultraviolet radiation is not immediate but happens over a long period of time.

Patients with pre-existing eye disorders have a greater risk of developing `dry eye syndrome', which is characterised by reduced production of tears and associated with persistent dryness and burning sensation.

While disorders like cataract were seen in the 50-55 age group a few years back, it is now becoming more common among 40-year-olds .

At an institution like Sankara Nethralaya , there were around 100 cases a year of age-related eye disorders while now the hospital reviews 400-500 such cases every month. Even after accounting for increased awareness and reporting, the proportions point to an increase in overall incidence of these disorders, Dr. Raman said.

The role of ultraviolet radiation exposure is likely to be one of parameters in a study that the Sankara Nethralaya proposes to undertake on age-related macular degenerative disorders.

Awareness of the harmful effects of ultraviolet exposure on vision remains low in the community, going by a recent study piloted in five cities, including Chennai.

After polling 2,257 respondents, the survey found that an overwhelming 78 per cent were unaware that ultraviolet rays had an impact on the eye.

Among the 22 per cent who reported some awareness, none had a clear idea of how the exposure would lead to eye disorders.

The survey by Transitions, an U.S.-headquartered optical solutions provider, found awareness levels to be low in Chennai as well with only 17 per cent of respondents aware that ultraviolet radiation had adverse impact on the eye.