It has been several years since scientists found the initial link between tanning beds and skin cancer. We know all too well that there is a relationship between sunlight and skin cancer, but the radiation found in tanning beds damages the skin just like radiation from the sun. Recent research has found that ultraviolet (UV) radiation can also damage the immune system and may possibly cause eye problems such as cataracts, arc eye and ocular melanoma.
High dose radiation is sometimes used in cancer treatment. While cancer cells are killed, the immune system is affected as well. Lymphocytes, white blood cells responsible for the immune system’s response, are reduced in number and are less effective. Other white blood cells are also affected. The decrease in lymphocytes can last for several years.
Immune System Damage
Even low doses of radiation can damage the immune system. It can cause chromosomal defects or mutations in lymphocytes. If the B-cell lymphocytes are affected, they may be unable to manufacture antibodies for fighting bacteria and other toxins. When T-cell lymphocytes are changed, they may fail to attack body cells taken over by cancer. In some cases, they may even attack healthy cells.
Individuals with damaged immune systems, sometimes referred to a immuno-compromised individuals, are much more likely to become ill. Even an illness that traditionally would easily treated at home can result in devastating effects or extended hospital stays. If the genes which suppress cancer are damaged, they may actually begin promoting cancer.
Much like overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, tanning beds and skin cancer go hand in hand. In fact, tanning beds emit between 93% and 99% UVA radiation, the type that penetrates deep into the skin. This is three times as much UVA as sunlight.
In addition to skin cancer, tanning beds may lead to diseases of the eye such as cataracts, arc eye and ocular melanoma. Cataracts are a clouding on the lens of the eye. Since the lens is responsible for adjusting focus, it can result in blurry vision. They typically grow over time, decreasing the vision even more. According to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, they can appear as soon as one to two years after high dose exposure or after several years of repeated low dose exposure.
Arc eye is sometimes referred to as welder’s eye or flash burn. It occurs when the eye is exposed to intense UV light such as that of a welding torch or tanning bed. The exposure causes keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea. Pain may be moderate to intense and eyes may feel dry and gritty. Vision often suffers as the cornea helps direct light in the eye.
While melanoma usually appears on the skin, it can appear in other areas of the body as well. When it appears in the eyes, it is called ocular melanoma. Much like melanoma of the skin, this condition is rare. However, left untreated, it can spread (metastasis) to other areas of the body. The liver is a common area it metastasizes to, often with fatal results.
Even when the eyes are protected with goggles, tanning beds are still harmful to the immune system. With the link between tanning beds and skin cancer, as well as decreased immune function, it is important to think twice before stepping into a tanning bed or booth…is having a tan really worth losing your sight or damaging your immune system for?