Ultraviolet radiation and the eye: an epidemiologic study

Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 1989:87:802-53.


Circumstantial evidence from biochemical, animal, and epidemiologic studies suggests an association between exposure to UV-B radiation (290 nm to 320 nm) and cataract. Such an association had not been proven because it had not been possible to quantify ocular UV-B exposure of individuals or to reliably grade the type and severity of cataract in field studies. We undertook an epidemiologic survey of cataract among 838 watermen who work on the Chesapeake Bay. Their individual ocular UV-B exposure was quantified for each year of life over the age of 16, on the basis of a detailed occupational history combined with laboratory and field measurements of ocular UV-B exposure. Cataracts were graded by both type and severity through clinical and photographic means. SMD changes were ascertained by fundal photography. A general medical history was taken to discover potentially confounding factors. This study showed that people with cortical lens opacities had a 21% higher UV-B exposure at each year of life than people without these opacities. A doubling in lifetime UV-B exposure led to a 60% increase in the risk of cortical cataract, and those with a high annual UV-B exposure increased their risk of cortical cataract over threefold. Corneal changes, namely pterygium and CDK, were also strongly associated with high UV-B exposure. No association was found between nuclear lens opacities or macular degeneration and UV-B exposure. This study also indicated several simple, practical measures, such as wearing spectacles or a hat, that effectively protect the eye from UV-B exposure. Thus it is easily within the power of individuals to protect their eyes from excessive UV-B exposure and reduce their risk of cortical cataract. A program of public education in this area could be a cost-effective means of reducing this important disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cataract / epidemiology*
  • Corneal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Eye / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Macular Degeneration / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Ultraviolet Rays