What’s Your UV IQ?

What’s Your UV IQ?
These days, everyone knows how important it is to protect our eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Right?

Not so fast. According to a recent nationwide consumer survey sponsored by Transitions Optical, 79 percent of people know the sun can cause skin cancer, but only 6 percent know it can harm the eyes. That’s appallingly low.

It’s hard to understand how, in 2003, large numbers of consumers are clueless about the dangers of UV, not to mention the possible danger from high-energy visible light, i.e. the blue and violet spectrum (see Jim Gallas’ comments in our Eye Opener feature on page 92). For the past 30 years, scientific evidence has been building linking UV exposure to eye damage, especially in young people. In the past few years, a number of optical industry and professional groups have recognized the danger and issued public warnings about it. All quality sunglasses today bear a sticker indicating that they block up to 400 nanometers of UV, according to FDA guidelines. Polycarbonate lenses inherently block UV, as do some other lens materials. Lenses that do not block UV can be dipped in UV-blocking coating.

Despite all this focus on UV, only 6 percent recognize the dangers. What’s causing the disconnect? I suspect one reason is simply denial on the part of many consumers. If we can’t see it, it can’t hurt us. We can see and feel a sunburn immediately, but UV damage can’t be detected for years and then it’s too late.

That’s a problem eyecare professionals can address. Although many practitioners do a thorough job of warning patients about the need for UV protection, there is no reliable way to make sure patients get the message.

How about implementing a check-off or voucher system similar to the Duty to Warn procedure used for dispensing polycarbonate lenses? This would indicate the practitioner has advised the patient about the need for UV protection, offered them UV-blocking eyewear and that the patient has accepted or declined.

Also, the eyewear industry should mount a massive public education campaign about the need for photoprotection. Transitions is doing its part with a consumer advertising and public relations campaign and many other sunglass, ophthalmic lens and contact lens suppliers are also helping to raise awareness. An industry-wide effort, supported by major professional and trade organizations would really bring the message home. Experts warn that ocular damage from sunlight will soon reach epidemic proportions. The time to act is now.

—Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology