CIESIN Thematic Guides

Ocular Damage from Increased Ultraviolet-B Exposure due to Ozone Depletion

Ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) exposure contributes to severe damage of the cornea, lens, and retina of the human eye. Acute exposures can result in photokeratitis or "snow-blindness." Lifetime cumulative exposures contribute to the risk of cataracts, the principal cause of sight impairment and loss worldwide. Other forms of ocular damage related to UV-B exposure include age-related near-sightedness.

Several authors discuss ocular damage as one of the key health effects from increased UV-B radiation. In the chapter "Human Health" of the 1989 United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Environmental Effects Panel Report, van der Leun, Takizawa, and Longstreth summarize what is known about the effects of UV-B exposure on the human eye. Longstreth et al. provide a good update on research related to these effects in the chapter "Human Health" of UNEP's 1991 report Environmental Effects of Ozone Depletion. In the paper "Loss of Stratospheric Ozone and Health Effects of Increased Ultraviolet Radiation" from Critical Condition, Leaf (1993) also discusses the etiology of ocular damage due to UV-B exposure and refers to several epidemiological studies related to this issue.

Other sources of information on the deleterious effects of ultraviolet-B radiation on the human eye include the 1987 EPA report Assessing the Risks of Trace Gases that Can Modify the Stratosphere. The chapter "Cataracts and Other Eye Disorders," provides a detailed review of the relationship of UV-B radiation and damage to the human eye. In "The Biological Effects of UV-B on the Eye," Taylor (1989) summarizes the recent epidemiological studies that quantify the dose-response relationships. In "Cataracts and Ultraviolet Light," Taylor (1990) discusses various studies that indicate UV-B exposure is linearly associated with cortical and posteria subcapsular cataracts. A brief description of relevant literature is presented by Diffey in the section "Effects of Solar UVR on the Eye" from his 1991 review "Solar Ultraviolet Radiation Effects on Biological Systems." Finally, Lloyd provides an update on the link between UV-B exposure and different types of eye damage in his contribution to the 1993 Lancet series on health effects and global change, "Health and Climate Change: Stratospheric Ozone Depletion."