Blinded by UV rays

STARTLING: The ultraviolet sterilisation lamp (left) had damaged the outer layer of Mr Andy Ng's corneas and left him partially blind for 12 hours.
PHOTO: Blinded by UV rays

The next time you're cleaning your fish pond, remember to turn off the ultraviolet (UV) sterilisation lamp in the pond.

Mr Andy Ng, 34, a car dealer, was partially blinded for half-a-day after leaving the UV sterilisation lamp inside his fish pond on while he was cleaning it for the first time.

The lamp, which was installed a year ago when he set it up, cost about $40 and measures about 20cm in length.

The lamp was installed to prevent the growth of algae, but had damaged the outer layer of Mr Ng's corneas and left him partially blind for 12 hours.

The incident happened last Friday morning, when Mr Ng was cleaning the fish pond at his office in a garage at Paya Lebar Road.

He said: "I didn't turn off the lamp because a UV lamp is such a common thing in a fish pond. I didn't think it would affect me."

He took about 1½ hours to clean the pond, which measures 1.5m by 2m.

By about 5.30pm, his eyes were inflamed and started itching.

Mr Ng said: "I thought it was because someone had sprayed an insect repellent in the office earlier, so I didn't think much of it."

He tried to ease the discomfort by washing his face and putting in eye drops. But the pain did not go away.

He went to bed at around 9pm, but was awoken by a sharp pain in his eyes around midnight.

He tried to open his eyes, but could not keep them open for more than three seconds. He also tried to look around his bedroom, but realised that his vision was blurry.

"I think I had only about 20 per cent of vision, and all I could see were shapes and shadows of objects around me," he said.


Startled and anxious, Mr Ng immediately asked his wife to take him to the hospital.

He thought he was suffering from an allergic reaction.

To his surprise, the doctor at Changi General Hospital took one look at him and asked if he had washed a fish tank that day.

He said: "She told me that she had seen a few people with the same condition as me before. Apparently it's quite common."

Mr Ng has recovered his vision, but his eyes are still sensitive to sunlight. He can't leave the house in the day without wearing sunglasses.

The skin on his nose and cheeks, which had been peeling because of the exposure to the UV light, has started to heal.

Mr Ng said that from now on, he will remember to turn off the UV sterilisation lamp whenever he cleans the pond.

"Who knew that such a small lamp could be so harmful to the eyes and skin? When my friends heard about it, they were shocked," he added.

A senior consultant ophthalmologist at the Singapore National Eye Centre, who declined to be named, said: "Any strong light, like UV, laser or even sunlight, can cause damage to the eye.

"Particularly the fovea, which is the part of the retina used to control central vision.

"If the levels of exposure (to such light rays) are low and mild, you can expect a full recovery. But if the levels are too high and too intense, the eye might not fully recover to pre-trauma levels," said the specialist.

He said the best way to prevent such damage to the eye would be to avoid looking directly at intense light sources and to wear special glasses or goggles to protect the eyes.

This article was published on April 11 in The New Paper.

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