UV Absorption with Contact Lenses

You probably know about the damage the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can do to your skin. But do you know about the damage UV radiation can do to the eye?

This UV exposure adds up over time: The exposure while on the beach as a child combines with sun exposure as you age, in many cases resulting in problems later in life.

Most of the UV rays that pass through the pupil of the eye are absorbed by the crystalline lens of the eye. Over time, the cummulative effects of the UV radiation may cause cataracts in the lens of the eye.

Solar radiation also reaches the surface of the eye from above, below, and from the side. It is concentrated by the cornea, the clear front layer of the eye, on tissues located on the opposite side of the eye. This peripheral UV radiation, over years of exposure, may result in nasal or inferonasal cataracts and tissue elevations on the surface of the eye called pingueculae and pterygia. 

The American Optometric Association recommends the use of sunglasses whose lenses absorb 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B rays. However, most sunglasses allow the peripheral UV radiation to reach the eyes from above, below and the side. 

Some contact lenses also absorb UV radiation. As contact lenses fit directly on the eye, much of the UV radiation coming from above, below and the side is absorbed by these contact lenses. Thus, UV absorbing contact lenses are often recommended for those wearing sunglasses in high sun exposure environments.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has standards for UV-absorbing contact lenses based on the American National Standards Institute Z80.20 standards. There are two classifications of UV-absorbing lenses:

  • FDA Class 1 absorber. Recommended for high exposure environments such as mountains or beaches. The lenses in this classification must absorb more than:
    • 90% of UVA (316-380 nm wavelengths) and
    • 99% of UVB (280 – 315 nm)

  • FDA Class 2 absorber. Recommended for general purposes. These lenses must absorb more than:
    • 50% of UVA and
    • 95% of UVB

Wrap-around style sunglasses can further help prohibit UV radiation from reaching the eye from above, below and the sides. 

Talk to your doctor of optometry about your outdoor activities in all seasons so that your risk of UV exposure can be assessed and the appropriate UV absorbing glasses and/or contact lenses prescribed for your individual needs.

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