The Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation on Humans

Written by kari wolfe
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The Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation on Humans
Sunburn is only one symptom of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Robby!)

The dangers of ultraviolet (UV) radiation have been known for some time; however, there can be positive effects, depending on the amount of exposure. It is always best to protect yourself against too much exposure.

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The Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation on Humans
Sunburn is only one symptom of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Robby!)

Healthy Effects of UV Radiation

Often overlooked are the healthy effects of UV radiation. Ultraviolet rays are necessary for the human body to make and produce vitamin D to strengthen bones. Vitamin D may reduce the risk of internal cancers such as colon cancer. Ultraviolet radiation also is used as a therapy for psoriasis; it slows the growth of the skin cells and relieves the sufferer of the symptoms of the condition: itchy patches on the body. A treatment for jaundice in a newborn is to put the baby on a bed that emits ultraviolet radiation to help stimulate bilirubin in the blood.

Effects on the Skin

Many skin changes are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, including various skin cancers such as melanoma, an increase in the number of moles on the body and UV damage to keratinocytes and blood vessels. Photoageing, caused by UV exposure and damage to fibrous tissues, loosens skin so that it wrinkles and sags, making people look older.

Effects on the Eye

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the effects of excessive UV radiation to the eye include photokeratitis and photoconjuctivitis (sunburn of the cornea and eyelids, respectively), pterygium (a opaque growth attached to the cornea), cancer of the conjunctiva and cataracts. Direct viewing of the sun and other bright objects also can damage the retina.

Effects on the Immune System

The human immune response also is altered by UV radiation. According to WHO, studies have shown it is "reasonable to assume that UV exposure may enhance the risk of infection and decrease the effectiveness of vaccines in humans." The organisation also states that additional research is necessary to substantiate this finding.

Means of Protection from UV Radiation

Personal protection from ultraviolet radiation includes clothing, hats, sunscreens and UV-blocking sunglasses. Changes in behaviour such as staying out of the sun when UV levels are at their highest also will limit the amount of exposure to UV rays.

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