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Health Impacts of Exposure to UV Radiation

Small amounts of UV are beneficial for people and essential in the production of Vitamin D. UV radiation is also used to treat several diseases, including rickets, psoriasis, eczema and jaundice. This takes place under medical supervision and the benefits of treatment tend to outweigh the risks of UV radiation exposure. Overexposure to solar radiation may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye and immune system. Many believe that only fair-skinned people need to be concerned about overexposure to the sun. Darker skin has more protective melanin pigment, and the incidence of skin cancer is lower in dark-skinned people. Nevertheless skin cancers do occur with this group and unfortunately they are often detected at a later, more dangerous stage.

The risk of UV-related health effects on the eye and immune system is independent of skin type. Eyes - adverse effects on the eye - increasing frequency of acute reactions such as 'snowblindness', increasing cataract frquency and severity (and increasing cataract related blindness), incidence and moretality from ocular melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the eye. Immune system - depressed resistance to certain tumours and infectious diseases, potential impairment of vaccination responses, increased severity of some autoimmune and allergic responses. Also may be some beneficial responses such as decreasing severity of certain immunologic diseases/conditions such as psoriasis and nickel allergy.

Comprehensive information on UV radiation and precautions to take is provided by the World Health Organisation INTERSUN programme.

Visit the Frequently Asked Questions page for answers on UV Radiation.

Page last modified: 31 March 2014