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UV-Blocking Contact Lenses: What You Need To Know

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 1, 2024

Human eyes are constantly exposed to harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from natural and artificial sunlight. Research has indicated that prolonged exposure to UV radiation can result in several eye abnormalities, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

As a preventive measure against UV-induced eye damage, experts recommend using protective eyewear, such as UV-blocking contact lenses. These lenses shield the limbus from ultraviolet radiation and block peripheral light, which sunglasses cannot block.

This article will discuss what you need to know about UV-blocking contact lenses and how they can help protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Protective eyewear, such as UV-blocking contact lenses, can shield the eyes from UVR and block peripheral light.
  • Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause discomfort, redness, and sensitivity to light and increase the risk of developing skin cancer, cataracts, photokeratitis, and presbyopia.
  • Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer that can occur in and around the eyelids.
  • Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness worldwide, and approximately 10% of those cases may be attributed to UV radiation exposure.
  • Photokeratitis is a condition that occurs when the cornea becomes inflamed and damaged due to exposure to high levels of UV rays.
  • UV-blocking contact lenses such as class I and class II blockers are designed to protect the eyes from harmful UV rays and can be used by anyone who wants to protect their eyes from the harmful effects of UV rays.
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How Does UV Light Affect the Eyes?

When eyes are exposed to prolonged periods of UV light, the intense radiation can damage the sensitive cells in the eyes. Studies have shown that the delicate tissues of the eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva, and iris can suffer from inflammation and injury after being exposed to UV rays. These effects can result in discomfort, redness, and sensitivity to light.

Moreover, prolonged exposure to UV light can increase your risk of developing various eye diseases and conditions, such as:

1. Cancer

Exposure to UV radiation over extended periods can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer in and around the eyelids. The two most common types of skin cancer that can occur in these areas are squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. According to statistics, around 5.4 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the US alone.

Squamous cell carcinoma typically develops on the eye's surface or the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue covering the eye's white part. Basal cell carcinoma, on the other hand, usually develops on the lower eyelid or in the inner corner of the eye.

2. Cataracts

Cataracts cloud the eye's natural lens and can cause blurry or hazy vision. UV rays can modify the proteins in the lens, leading to cataract formation and aggravating eyesight.

Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness, with approximately 15 million people suffering from blindness worldwide, and an estimated 10% of those cases may be attributed to UV radiation exposure.

3. Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis is a condition that occurs when the cornea, the transparent layer that covers the iris and pupil, becomes inflamed and damaged due to exposure to high levels of UV rays. This can happen due to prolonged exposure to sunlight and exposure to other sources of UV radiation, such as tanning beds or welder's torches.

The condition is often called "snow blindness" because it can occur when someone spends too much time in the snow or on a beach in bright sunlight without proper eye protection. The symptoms of photokeratitis can include:

  • Eye pain
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tearing
  • temporary vision loss

The cornea can become swollen and opaque in severe cases, leading to permanent vision damage if left untreated.

4. Presbyopia

Presbyopia is a common visual condition that develops as a person ages. It occurs when the eye's lens becomes less flexible and loses its ability to focus on nearby objects.

While the condition is not directly caused by exposure to UV radiation, studies have shown that prolonged exposure to UV rays can accelerate the progression of presbyopia and make it more difficult for individuals to see up close.

This is because UV exposure can cause damage to the eyes, leading to a reduction in visual function, which can worsen the symptoms of presbyopia.

What Are UV-Blocking Contact Lenses?

UV-blocking contact lenses are specialty contact lenses designed to protect the eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. These lenses are made with a specific coating that helps block UV radiation, which can cause damage to the eyes with prolonged exposure. UV-blocking contact lenses are available in prescription and non-prescription options, and they can be used by anyone who wants to protect their eyes from the harmful effects of UV rays.

Additionally, these lenses are a great option for people who spend significant time outdoors or in bright sunlight, as they can help reduce glare and improve overall visual acuity.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established standards for UV-blocking contact lenses based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z80.20 standards.

There are two types of UV-blocking lenses:

1. FDA Class I Blocker

Class 1 blocker lenses are designed for high-exposure environments, such as beaches or mountains, with an elevated level of ultraviolet radiation. These lenses must block more than 90% of UVA (316-380 nm wavelengths) and 99% of UVB (280 – 315 nm) to be considered effective for protection.

They are particularly beneficial for those who live in high-altitude areas, near the equator, or those with sensitive eyes.

2. FDA Class II blocker

Class 2 blocker lenses are generally recommended and must block more than 70% UVA and 95% UVB. They are a good option for people who spend significant time outdoors but not in high-exposure environments. They provide reliable protection against UV rays and suit people of all ages.

👍Recommendations

Contact lenses are a comfortable and popular alternative to eyeglasses. However, following proper care and maintenance guidelines is crucial to ensure eye health and comfort. One of the most important factors is choosing the right contact solution. To help you make an informed decision, we have extensively researched and tested various contact solutions to ensure your eye health and comfort.

How Do UV-blocking Contact Lenses Work?

UV-blocking contact lenses incorporate special agents into the lens material to help protect the eyes from harmful UV radiation. These lenses can block a significant percentage of UV-A and UV-B rays, with some claiming to block 97% of UV-B and 81% of UV-A rays.

However, it's important to note that while they protect the insides of the eyes, they leave the outside of the eye, including the eyelid, conjunctiva, and surrounding skin, exposed to UV radiation.

Therefore, they are not substitutes for protective UV-blocking eyewear and head coverings. Sunglasses labeled "UV400" or "100% UV protection" are still recommended for comprehensive eye protection, even on cloudy days. UV-blocking contact lenses and sunglasses are intended to be used together to provide the best possible protection against UV radiation.

How To Protect Your Eyes And Contact Lenses From UV Damage?

Protecting your eyes and contact lenses from harmful UV rays is essential for maintaining good eye health. Here are some detailed tips on how to do so:

  • Select Contact Lenses with UV Protection: When choosing contact lenses, select ones that offer UV protection. This will help to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays and prevent long-term damage.
  • Wear Sunglasses for Additional Protection: Along with contact lenses, sunglasses can provide additional protection against UV rays. Look for sunglasses that offer full UV protection and wrap around your eyes to prevent the sun's rays from entering from the sides.
  • Avoid Peak Sun Hours: The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Try to avoid being outside during these hours, or take extra precautions to protect your eyes if you must be outside.
  • Use Lubricating Eye Drops: UV rays can cause dryness and eye irritation. Using lubricating eye drops can help to keep your eyes moist and comfortable. Make sure to choose eye drops that are safe for contact lenses.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help to keep your eyes hydrated and prevent dryness. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.
  • Seek Shade: When outdoors, seek shade under a tree or umbrella to protect your eyes from direct sunlight. This can be especially important during peak sun hours.
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How To Choose The Right UV-blocking Contact Lenses?

When selecting UV-blocking contact lenses, it is essential to consider various factors to ensure they meet your UV protection needs and personal preferences. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • UV Blocking Technologies: Explore the various UV blocking technologies different brands offer. Some lenses integrate UV-blocking agents within their material, while others use specialized surface coatings. Understand these technologies to choose lenses that align with your UV protection requirements and comfort preferences.
  • Prescription Compatibility: If you require vision correction, opt for prescription UV protection lenses that address your needs (nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatism). Consult an eye care professional to determine the accurate strength and type of lenses suitable for your eyes.
  • Length of Wear: Consider your lifestyle when choosing the length of your lenses. Daily disposables are convenient for active individuals, eliminating the need for cleaning and maintenance. Extended-wear lenses are suitable for longer usage, providing flexibility for those with erratic schedules.
  • Routine and Activities: Evaluate your daily routine and activities to choose lenses that suit your lifestyle. Daily disposable UV protection lenses are ideal for those with busy schedules or minimal hassle preferences. Specialized lenses are available for outdoor enthusiasts, providing enhanced UV protection during extended periods of sunlight.
  • Purchase from a Reliable Source: Prioritize your eye health by purchasing lenses tailored to your lifestyle from a reliable source for clear vision and comprehensive protection against harmful UV rays.

Wrap-up

UV-blocking contact lenses such as Class I and Class II blockers are an effective and convenient way to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet radiation. They are designed to block UV rays and prevent them from damaging your eyes, reducing your risk of developing eye diseases and conditions.

These lenses are available in prescription and non-prescription options, and they are a great option for people who spend significant time outdoors or in bright sunlight. By wearing UV-blocking contact lenses, you can take a proactive step towards maintaining healthy vision and protecting your eyes from long-term damage.

FAQs On UV-Blocking Contact Lenses

Do UV blocking contacts change color?

UV-blocking contact lenses have the capability of altering their color. The lenses darken in under a minute and return to their clear state in about 90 seconds after no longer being exposed to bright lights.

Can I wear contacts in the sun?

Yes. Contact lens wearers are often more sensitive to bright sunlight than those who wear eyeglasses. Wearing sunglasses over your contacts helps to reduce discomfort and glare from sunlight, even on partly cloudy, hazy, or overcast days. This can be especially beneficial for those who wear contact lenses as they can experience more discomfort from bright sunlight.

Do I need UV-blocking contact lenses?

To protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, it is strongly recommended to wear sunglasses. Even though UV-blocking contact lenses can provide some protection, they don't cover as much area as sunglasses. Sunglasses offer a much wider range of eye protection, including the sensitive skin surrounding them.

Will UV contact lenses glow in the dark?

Many people misunderstand the purpose of UV-blocking contact lenses. They are not the same as glow-in-the-dark lenses and cannot be charged up to glow in darkness or at night. UV lenses are designed only to glow when exposed to UV black light, which is quite different from regular light.