Indoor Tanning Can Damage Your Eyes Just Like the Sun

FW-a blog May 2014

Eleven different U.S. medical organizations have joined together to raise awareness of the dangers of indoor tanning, citing rising skin
cancer rates, particularly among young women who are more likely to use indoor tanning beds. In addition to causing skin cancer, tanning beds — just like prolonged sun exposure — can lead to serious eye damage.  Studies have demonstrated that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation during indoor tanning can lead to eye damage. Tanning beds can produce UV levels up to 100 times what you would get from the sun, which can cause serious damage to the external and internal structures of the eye and eyelids.

UV damage to the eyes may result in the development of cataracts and cause macular degeneration, as well as cancer of the uvea, which is the
middle layer of tissue under the white of the eye. UV damage is cumulative, which is why teens and young adults should be particularly
careful to protect their eyes from sun exposure. In addition to avoiding the harmful UV levels of tanning beds, while outdoors, ophthalmologists (eye doctors) recommend that you wear 99 percent and higher UV– absorbent sunglasses and a brimmed hat, as well as appropriate SPF sun block on the face.

While many teens and young adults — particularly females — acknowledge that indoor tanning is dangerous, they continue to tan
indoors. A recent U.S. survey by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) shows that the majority of indoor tanners (86
percent) think using tanning beds can cause skin cancer, yet 87 percent of indoor tanners still think that people look more attractive with a tan. The partners in this public awareness campaign emphasize that instead of being a sign of good health, a tan is actually the body’s response to damage from ultraviolet light.

Photokeratitis and Photoconjunctivitis
Photokeratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, while photoconjunctivitis refers to an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and eye sockets. These inflammatory reactions may be compared to a sunburn of the very sensitive skin-like tissues of the eyeball and eyelids, and usually appear within a few hours of exposure. Photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis can be very painful, however, they are reversible and do not seem to result in any long-term damage to the eye or vision.

Photokeratitis can be thought of as a sunburn of the cornea. It is caused by intense UVC/UVB exposure of the eye. Photokeratitis is also called “snow blindness” because many people develop this condition at high altitudes in a snowy environment, where the reflections of UVB are high. This condition can also be produced by exposure to intense artificial sources of UVC/UVB, like broken mercury vapor lamps, or certain types of tanning lamps.

Symptoms

Tearing • Pain • Swollen eyelids
A feeling of sand in the eye • Hazy or decreased vision

Treatment

Consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe a topical solution which will aid your cornea in healing. Since the cornea usually heals in 24 to 48 hours, the symptoms are not long-lasting.

Pterygium

This growth of the conjunctiva on the surface of the eye is a common cosmetic blemish and is probably linked to prolonged UV exposure. Pterygium may extend over the center of the cornea and thereby reduce vision. It also has a tendency to become inflamed. Even though it can be removed by surgery, the outgrowth tends to recur.

Cataracts

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world. Proteins in the eye’s lens unravel, tangle and accumulate pigments which cloud the lens and eventually lead to blindness. Even though cataracts appear to different degrees in most individuals as they age, they appear to be enhanced by exposure to UVB. Cataracts can be surgically removed and an artificial lens or other means of optical correction can restore vision.

Every year some 16 million people in the world suffer from blindness due to a loss of transparency in the lens. Estimates suggest that up to 20 per cent of cataracts may be caused by overexposure to UV radiation and are, therefore, avoidable.

Symptoms

Consult your doctor if you experience clouded or spotty vision, or pain or soreness in and around the eyes.

Treatment

Cataracts can be surgically removed.

Cancer of the Eye

Current scientific evidence suggests that different forms of eye cancer may be associated with life-long exposure to the sun. Melanoma is the most frequent malignant cancer of the eyeball and sometimes requires surgical removal. A common location for basal cell carcinoma is on the eyelids.

The Bottom Line

Wearing sun protection gear such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100% UV protection can help decrease the risks of eye damage.

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