Interviewer: It's well-known that the sun can damage our skin, but it can also have lasting negative effects on our eyes as well. Ophthalmologist Dr. Jeff Pettey, what are some of those concerns?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, the same way that the sun damages the skin, it can also damage the eye. Things like skin cancer can occur in the eye. Also, the eye can have things such as cataracts and scarring on the surface of the eye from sun damage.
Interviewer: So how can we protect our eyes from UV damage? I assume sunglasses, probably, play a big role?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, the best protection is sunglasses, sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection. Large sunglasses to provide more protection. And interestingly enough, you don't have to spend $500 to get that protection. A $5 pair will protect your eyes just as well as a $500 pair.
updated: January 14, 2021
originally published: May 24, 2019
Wearing sunglasses prevents UV rays from damaging your eyes.
Interviewer: If you have dry eyes, how you know it can be a real irritating problem. Dr. Jeff Pettey, first of all, what causes dry eyes?
Dr. Pettey: Dry eye can be a problem anywhere we live, mainly because of things like electronic devices. Whenever we're on our computers, on our smartphones, or even reading a book, we don't blink as often. Our eyes become uncomfortable as they dry out, they get red, irritated. Those are the signs of dry eye. Particularly around the turn of the seasons as well, winter, summer, being outdoors, that can also make dry eye worse.
Interviewer: So if somebody has dry eyes, how can they find relief?
Dr. Pettey: The mainstay of treatment is going to be over the over-the-counter artificial tears, similar to treating dry lips with ChapStick, dry skin with lotion. Using over the-counter-tears can prevent dry eye from happening and it can also be our treatment.
updated: September 8, 2021
originally published: March 20, 2018
Dry eye is an irritating problem that seems to get worse when the weather changes. But the primary cause of itchy, red eyes is looking at electronic screens. Learn the causes of dry eyes and the best method to treat it.
Interviewer: Three million people in the United States have glaucoma, but as many as half of those people don't even know they actually have the disease. Ophthalmologist Dr. Jeff Pettey, first of all, what is glaucoma?
Dr. Pettey: Glaucoma's a disease of the optic nerve that causes permanent vision loss. The reason that so many people are unaware they have glaucoma is because it robs you of your peripheral vision. If you lost your central vision, you would notice very quickly, being unable to read or recognize faces. But the peripheral vision loss is much more difficult, particularly when it's slow. You can have glaucoma at any age, but its risk increases the older you are. With glaucoma being a permanent form of vision loss, it's very important to be diagnosed early. If you don't remember the last time that you saw an eye doctor trained in glaucoma, you should get in and see your physician and be screened.
updated: May 21, 2021
originally published: May 13, 2019
Three million people in the United States have glaucoma. What you can do to prevent glaucoma.
Interviewer: It might be surprising, but one of the most common injuries of winter sports is actually eye injuries. Dr. Jeff Pettey, what do we need to look out for when it comes to protecting our eyes when we ski or snowboard?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, the two things we need to protect ourselves from during snow sports are UV damage and then also physical injury. The way that we can protect our eyes from UV damage is by wearing sunglasses or goggles with 100% UVA and UVB protection. While sunglasses will afford some protection, goggles will afford more protection because they're larger. Goggles will also afford protection from physical injury better. Things like a ski pole, things like branches coming into contact with our face, those are things that we need to be protected from, and goggles will give us the best protection.
updated: December 14, 2020
originally published: November 27, 2017
Why skiers should be concerned with UV damage and physical injury to the eyes, as well as the best ways to keep your eyes safe while enjoying winter sports.
Interviewer: Find out how sun exposure can affect your sight and how best to protect yourself. Coming up, on The Scope.
Announcer: Health information from expects, supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is TheScopeRadio.com.
Interviewer: We're with Doctor Jeff Pettey. He's an ophthalmologist from the University of Utah Health. What are some of the problems and risks that people face with sun exposure and their eyes?
Dr. Pettey: That's a really great question. All of us are at risk for sun damage to our eyes. The same effects on our skin from chronic exposure to the sun can occur in our eyes. That can result in things like cataract which could cause blurring of vision, that can also result in things such as growths on the surface of the eye or in some cases, even increasing your risk of tumors or cancers on your eye.
Interviewer: So what type of activities and exposure should people be on the lookout for with their eyes?
Dr. Pettey: Similar to the same type of concerns that you would have with skin. If you're out somewhere where you can get reflected ultraviolet rays at you, skiing, boating, really even out in our Utah deserts, you get a lot of reflection, that's going to increase the dose of ultraviolet light that's hitting your eyes.
Now, there are acute events that can occur for instance, particularly in our climate, it's a sunny day, you'll get the intense UV light from being at altitude. Often as much as 90% of that ultraviolet light can be reflected. So you get these double doses and that could result in one of the worst most painful eye conditions we see, something called ultraviolet keratitis. It's been described aptly as taking sand, opening your eyes and just pouring the sand directly in your eyes, and then closing your eyelids.
Interviewer: So that's for people out in extreme exposure, people that are skiers, hikers, adventurers, what about just everyday people? People driving to work every day without their sunglasses, what kind of problems can they feel?
Dr. Pettey: The specific issues that we find are chronic conditions such as cataracts, and the specific growths that you can see on the eye. One is called a pterygium. The other is called a pinguecula. That's long-term scar tissue that can develop. Pterygium can actually start growing across the front of your eye. In many parts of the developing world, we'll actually find people who are actually blind from the chronic sun exposure from pterygium.
Interviewer: So these aren't people that are like looking at the sun directly. These are just every day long-term type of effects?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, correct. That's long term effects. Now, one thing that is pertinent to something like an eclipse is when people view the sun directly and if they do view the sun directly, whether that's on a regular day or whether that's during an eclipse, they're at risk of having something called solar maculopathy. That's basically where the sun's rays are all being focused on a part of your eye called the macula. The macula is responsible for all of your detail vision.
So looking at the sun for too long directly can result in you having a permanent smudge in the center of your vision as you try to read a line of print, you have that smudge follow you as you look at someone's face, that smudge will be directly on their face. And in in its worst form, that's permanent.
Interviewer: So chronic high altitude, direct looks and stuff like that, all sorts of problems that can happen with the eye. What are the best ways for people to protect themselves?
Dr. Pettey: So let's just start simple with sunglasses. Sunglasses will block out likely 100% of the UV light. If you look, your sunglasses, they should have a certification saying it blocks 100% of both UVA and UVB light. If you wear regular glasses, I'm not talking sunglasses but just regular glasses, day to day, those lenses will also have UV protection built into the lens itself. And so that's just as good as wearing sunglasses when you're outside.
Interviewer: Really? So just because they're darker doesn't necessarily mean they protect you from the sun more?
Dr. Pettey: That's correct. There's a layer in the glasses that's actually built into lenses nowadays that will block ultraviolet light and that will block ultraviolet light whether it's a clear glass that you need just for simple nearsightedness or farsightedness. That same layer will be in sunglasses. So having a darker tint just overall allows less light into your eye.
The tips for the type of sunglasses you would want, bigger is better. The more coverage you can have of your eyes, the better. You do not need to get dark tint. Tinting doesn't actually decrease the amount of ultraviolet light hitting the eye. That ultraviolet light will be blocked by the glasses themselves.
Finally, things like polarization again, polarization helps with optics, but it has no effect on ultraviolet blockage through the lens. So as long as you have a pair of glasses that are relatively large to provide good coverage, that's the best recommendation. And wear those every time you're outside in the sun.
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Interviewer: On August 21st, the so-called "great American total solar eclipse" will darken the skies. How to keep your eyes safe during this cosmic event, next on The Scope.
Announcer: Health tips, medical news, research, and more for a happier, healthier life. From University of Utah Health Sciences, this is The Scope.
Interviewer: We're here with Dr. Jeff Pettey, he's an ophthalmologist with University of Utah Health. Now, Dr. Pettey, what are some of the things that can happen to a person if they look at an eclipse unsafely?
Dr. Pettey: An eclipse is essentially the moon blocking the sun, a solar eclipse. And if you are watching an eclipse during the time period that the moon is entirely blocking the sun, it's safe to look at that point. At that point, it will begin to darken, some of the stars will come out and at that point, it will just be like dusk and you can look directly at the moon covering the sun. At any other point during an eclipse, you will have eye damage if you look at the eclipse for too long. It's basically like you're looking at the sun during an eclipse.
Interviewer: And we all know not to stare at the sun. But do you happen to know how long that moment of, "It's okay to stare directly at the eclipse," is?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, we don't know, we don't know exactly how long. There are estimates of perhaps a minute, and some people say a few seconds. The bottom line is there's really no amount of time which we would recommend that you look directly at the sun or directly at an eclipse.
Interviewer: Officially, right?
Dr. Pettey: Yes.
Interviewer: All right, so how are some of the ways that all of these people running and flocking to different places to take a look at this, you know, this eclipse, what are some of the ways they can do it safely?
Dr. Pettey: The only way to look at the sun or at the eclipse safely is with something that's going to dim out the rays, and that's with something called eclipse glasses or eclipse shields. They're going to block out all but about a millionth of the sun's rays. And when you have a pair of eclipse glasses on and you look at the sun, all that you should be able to see is the sun or, during an eclipse, the partial portion of the sun that's not blocked by the moon.
Interviewer: When purchasing these types of glasses, maybe it's the first time someone's even experienced an eclipse like this, what are some of the things that people should be looking for to make sure that they are safe in their purchase when they're looking?
Dr. Pettey: Yeah, here's really the crux of it. What's happened recently is sellers such as Amazon, they've been selling eclipse glasses. These eclipse glasses reportedly had the International Organization for Standardization, ISO, certification certifying that they're safe to look the sun or an eclipse. And what they've found is some of these vendors have not been able to actually verify that they've received this standardization. So people, like myself, have received emails from Amazon saying while they might be safe, they do not recommend using these glasses to look at the eclipse because they can't verify that they would be safe.
So on to the important question. How can you actually know? Well, the American Astronomical Association has published a group of reputable vendors that they have utilized, that can be found on their website. Short of that, at this point, if you do happen to have a pair of eclipse glasses and you're not certain whether they're safe to use, you likely will be okay. However, that's something that we can't promise.
Interviewer: So kind of, final word, if you're going to be looking at the eclipse, don't look at it directly without some sort of protection.
Dr. Pettey: That's correct. And the safest thing to do if you don't have any access is to make a pinhole camera. You can find pinhole cameras how-tos all over YouTube, all over the internet. Essentially, take something, poke a hole in it, and then allow the sun's rays to go through that hole and look at the projection behind it and you'll be able to see the eclipse.
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Interviewer: On August 21st, America will fall underneath the path of a total solar eclipse. What that means and how to keep your eyes safe, Dr. Jeff Pettey is an ophthalmologist at the University of Utah Health.
Dr. Pettey: Looking at an eclipse or the sun for, really, any period of time puts you at risk for permanent vision loss. The type of vision loss we're talking about is, if you were to look at someone's face, having a gray smudge on their face, or a gray smudge in a line of print, and having that be permanent for the rest of your life.
Interviewer: So with all these people trying to take advantage of the great American eclipse, what are some of the ways they can do it safely?
Dr. Pettey: The two ways are, using a pinhole camera, a pinhole camera allows you to indirectly view the eclipse, and then, also, through eclipse glasses, which you need to purchase from a reputable vendor to ensure they have the correct certification.
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