You may have noticed that the sun is a bit brighter these days (Good news!). You may have also noticed that you are using the visor more when you drive or squinting more when the light glares off the cars in front of you. Those are reminders that it is time to get a good pair of sunglasses and wear them regularly.
Sunglasses can prevent your eyes from suffering sun damage as a result of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, and they can look good too. Consider them a stylish and healthy accessory! Whether you wear regular or prescription lenses, here is what you need to know as you shop for a new pair of sunglasses.
Sunglasses protect your eyes from two types of UV rays:
• UVA: These are the rays that cause skin cancer
• UVB: These are the rays that cause sunburns
Both of these rays are dangerous to our eyes. They cause the same damage to our eyes that they cause to our skin. The problem is that the sun’s rays can be deceiving; they can hurt our eyes even when we are sitting in the shade or if the sun is reflecting off other surfaces into our eyes.
According to the National Eye Institute, the sun can cause many different types of damage to our eyes:
• Cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye that can blur vision. An estimated 20% of cases are caused by extended UV exposure.
• Macular degeneration that results from damage to the retina. It destroys central vision. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
• Pterygium, a tissue growth over the white part of the surface of the eye that can alter the curve of the eyeball, causing astigmatism.
• Photokeratitis, described as a “sunburn of the eye”. It can cause temporary symptoms like red eyes, a gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Damage is usually not permanent.
Cataracts can be surgically removed, but there is no cure for macular degeneration. Given the seriousness of these eye conditions, wearing sunglasses is important preventative protection.
How do sunglasses work?
Sunglasses are designed to protect our eyes from UVB and UVA rays as well as the portion of the light spectrum that we can see, called “visible light”. Sunglass lenses are layered and are made from glass, plastic or polycarbonate that is coated with a UV absorbing material. The layers, listed from the outside of the lens to the innermost layer, are as follows:
1. The external layer of the sunglass lens has a mirror coating and/or tint to deflect the light.
2. Scratch resistant coating to protect the lens.
3. Polarizing film to eliminate glare from pavement, water and other surfaces.
4. Lens with UV coating to absorb and reflect light that is harmful to the eyes.
5. The innermost layer has an anti-reflective coating that reduces glare and prevents reflections from occurring inside the lens.
When you buy sunglasses, purchase any style frame you like. However, the American Optometric Association says that the lenses should be gray for the best protection. Make sure that the sunglasses are labeled as “Polarized” and that they block out 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation.
Sunglasses aren’t just for summer
Experts recommend that you wear sunglasses any time you are outdoors. The summer may remind us that we need sunglasses but we need to wear them year -round to prevent damage to our eyes. You should wear sunglasses:
During the summer, when the level of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) is at least three time higher than during the winter
• At the beach or in the water
• When participating in winter sports, especially at high altitudes
• When using medications that can cause sensitivity to light
Proper use of sunglasses can protect your eyes from damage caused by the sun. However, should you suffer from eye disease like age-related macular degeneration, we are here to help. Our highly specialized ophthalmologists work with patients every day who suffer low vision from a variety of eye diseases. We believe that low vision can always be enhanced, even if you have been told that nothing more can be done. Call us for a consultation. If you suffer from low vision we can help you to participate fully in activities of daily living, hobbies, watching TV and seeing the faces of loved ones. Enjoy the summer!