Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

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Are there any other health issues related to UV radiation?

In addition to cancer, exposure to UV rays can cause other health problems. UV rays, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds, can cause sunburn. In some people, exposure to UV rays can cause a rash or a type of allergic reaction. Exposure to UV rays can also cause premature aging of the skin and signs of sun damage such as liver spots, actinic keratosis, and solar elastosis.

UV rays can also cause eye problems. They can cause the cornea (on the front of the eye) to become inflamed or burned. They can also lead to the formation of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and pterygium (tissue growth on the surface of the eye), both of which can impair vision.

Exposure to UV rays can also weaken the immune system, so that the body has a harder time fending off infections. This can lead to problems such as reactivation of herpes triggered by exposure to the sun or other sources of UV rays. It can also cause vaccines to be less effective.

Some medications can make you more sensitive to UV radiation, making you more likely to get sunburned. Certain medical conditions can be made worse by UV radiation.

About UV rays and vitamin D

Doctors are learning that vitamin D has many health benefits. It might even help lower the risk for some cancers. Your skin makes vitamin D naturally when it is exposed to UV rays from the sun. How much vitamin D you make depends on many things, including how old you are, how dark your skin is, and how strong the sunlight is where you live.

At this time, doctors aren’t sure what the optimal level of vitamin D is. A lot of research is being done in this area. Whenever possible, it’s better to get vitamin D from your diet or vitamin supplements rather than from exposure to UV rays because dietary sources and vitamin supplements do not increase skin cancer risk, and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need.

Last Medical Review: 08/12/2015
Last Revised: 08/12/2015