Marlborough residents are being warned to protect their eyes from extreme levels of UV radiation that could cause early onset of conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
With UV levels peaking across New Zealand throughout the summer months, Nelson and the surrounding Marlborough region often reach 8 or above on the UV Index (UVI), which is classed as ‘very high’ to ‘extreme’ exposure.
The region’s sunny, clear-sky days make for wonderful holidays, but those same days are the reason why vacationers and residents alike need to ensure their eyes are adequately protected.
“People live in our region for the lifestyle, and many of them spend lots of time doing outdoor activities, which does expose them to the sun and UV radiation,” says optometrist Richard Newson, of Harrington Eyecare in Nelson.
“UV exposure causes premature ageing of the eyes, so it can mean people develop cataracts or experience macular degeneration earlier than they usually would,” says Newson. “It can also lead to growths on the eyeball (called pterygium) in some people.”
It’s estimated around 3 million people around the world go blind from prolonged UV exposure each year. In New Zealand, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness, while cataract operations are one of the most common eye surgeries performed.
Newson says those particularly at risk in the region are farmers and fishermen, who spend long days outdoors, but stresses that everyone is at risk of damage if they don’t choose adequate eyewear for when they are outside.
“You need to be looking for sunglasses that offer 100% UVA and UVB protection, and that fit well - you don’t want them to be bouncing all over the place, as then they are likely to be letting in UV rays,” he explains.
“Wearing eyeglasses is also a way to protect from UV, and there is now technology such as Essilor’s Crizal Prevencia UV coating that blocks all harmful rays and can be added to any lenses for extra protection.”
The technology also blocks some blue light - the range of the visible light spectrum with wavelengths between 380-500 nm - which can have a harmful effect on the retinas of eyes and also contribute to macular degeneration. It is emitted by the sun, but also by artificial sources such as LEDs, computers and smartphones.