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UV Light May Play A Decisive Role In Cataract Formation

October 2, 2014

UV light

You may think that UV light is merely a problem for your skin, but recent research shows that UV rays can be just as damaging to our eyes as well.

It has long been suspected that UV light has a role in the formation of cataracts. Cataracts are formed when the material in the viscose lens of the eye become cloudy, blocking light from reaching the retina, the sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. Cataracts are associated with aging.

While UV light is thought to play a role in the creation of cataracts, the mechanism whereby it achieves this creation has been a mystery. A new study may have the answer.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress occurs in the normal process of cell function. As cells take in oxygen and other fuels as part of energy production, harmful chemical reactions can happen as a consequence. The damage these chemical process cause to our bodies is a major contributing factor to the aging process and the occurrence of age-related disorders like cataracts. Cataracts are the single most common cause of age-related vision disorder, as well as the most common reason for corrective surgical procedures.

Oxidative stress has been considered as a prime cause of cataract formation. But herein lies a mystery, and it has everything to do with the special nature of the cells that make up the lenses of our eyes.

The Unique Features Of Lens Cells

Normal cells are made of up proteins and water. Tiny structures inside these cells, called organelles, are vital to sustaining the processes that keep their cells alive and healthy. But the cells within our eyes’ lenses lack these organelles – it is because they are not there that the lens is clear, permitting sunlight to pass through them. And these special lens cells receive little to no oxygen.

Cataracts form when something like oxidative stress damages the cells of the lens, disarranging the configurations of proteins that allow light to pass through them; this damage causes the cells to clump together, producing obstacles to the transmission of light.

The question is then: how can cells that receive little oxygen suffer from oxidative stress? The answer revolves around UV light.

A New Study

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio have shown that in the absence of oxygen, UV light can damage the proteins of the cells of our lenses by a process called glycation – the damage resulting appears very similar to that caused by oxidative stress. Thus our eyes can suffer both the normal ageing caused by our cellular activity (oxidative stress) as well damage caused by UV rays.

The findings of this study have profound implications. Greater understanding in how cataracts are formed could lead to medications that could one day eliminate them.

But for now, the recent findings make it clear that protecting our eyes from UV light is more important than ever. Dr. Silverman and the OCLI team can help you select the best UV protection for your eyes. Make an appointment today.

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