A photograph of a mournful polar bear on a gaunt ice sheet struggling to survive often accompanies most information in regards to the ozone layer. The deep emotional response from these images evokes a call to action for the wildlife. However, we seldom think about the damaging effects that the depletion in the ozone has on the human body, let alone the daily destruction that the ozone hole has on our eyes. This does not serve as a ignorance to diminish the evident need to save the environment, but to serve as a proactive guide to protection in our day-to-day lives.
Ozone layer 101: The ozone is made up of a layer of O3 (ozone gas). Ozone gas is bluish in colour, explosive, highly poisonous. The ozone layer is located in the stratosphere a layer of atmosphere about 10-17 kms above the earth. The main function of the ozone layer is to filter out most of the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. In recent years the depletion in the ozone has become significantly more popularized and often referred to as a hole in the ozone layer. However, hole is not the correct term; it is more of depletion or weakening of the ozone. This depletion is located over Antarctica where ozone levels in the atmosphere are decreasing, resulting in an increase of UV rays reaching the surface of the earth.
What causes this depletion in the ozone? The production and release of something called Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are chemicals containing atoms of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine, which are nontoxic, and non non-flammable, but can have an unfavourable effect on the ozone layer. CFCs are used in refrigerators, AC coolant systems, aerosol sprays, foam plastics, and cleaners for electronic parts. This damage happens because CFCs remain chemically unchanged as they rise through the atmosphere under the UV bombardment when they reach the stratosphere CFCs are broken down and release chlorine gas (Cl2) then breaks down O3 gas into O2 gas and free chlorine atoms. Some efforts have been put forward to aid in restoration of the ozone such as the Montreal Protocol; a conference asking for an international treaty to protect the ozone layer have been made to abolish the use and distribution of CFCs. Yet, the ozone depletion is still a major issue.
Due to the over use of CFCs, the depletion of the ozone is happening at staggering rates and having a lasting effect on many aspects of our lives. Aside from the environmental and unpredictable effects on crops, there are also psychical effects on humans that are gravely overlooked. For instance the rise in skin cancer has had a devastating toll on more than 6,800 Canadians who will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2015 (Canadian Cancer Society, 2015). Media has shone some light on the impact of skin cancer, however more preventive actions need to be taken.
Many Canadians overlook the damaging effect the depletion of the ozone is having on their eyes. The UV radiation at the most basic level can cause an unpleasant sensation that we all know too well (especially my fellow glasses wearers) forced squinting and dry eyes. There are many more problems that accompany UV radiation other than the unpleasantness of squinting. Photokeratitis for example is described sometimes as, “sunburn of the eye” and causes red eye, extreme sensitivity to light and can be extremely painful (American Optometric Association). Photokeratitis is only a short-term problem and rarely causes any long-term problems making it a minimal risk from ozone depletion.
Long-term damage is more problematic and has more devastating effects on your eyes. Long-term damage occurs on the retina and can cause cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding of the lenses, which affects vision greatly and can only be fixed through invasive surgery that may result in complications. Although cataracts are mainly found in the elderly, with the rate of depletion and excess UV radiation exposure, we may be seeing a sudden rise in cataracts in young people.
Fear not, your fate is not sealed to have bad eyes forever; there are many proactive measures you can take to combat the devastating effect that the ozone depletion is having. The most important is to protect your eyes directly by wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses are the first defense on protecting your eyes. There are many different lenses such as polarized, which help protect your eyes as well as provide clear vision while on the water. Do not limit your sunglasses use to a day at the beach, have a pair for driving and sports as well. Please speak to your eye care professional when considering sunglasses, they will provide you with the right type for your needs.