How to Choose the Best Sunglasses for Your Eye Health
UV and sunglasses: How to protect your eyes
When you think of the damage the sun can do, your first thought may be of the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can burn your skin, increasing your risk of skin cancer. What you may not realize is that the sun can hurt your eyes as well.
Most people are aware of skin damage from UV, simply because sunburn hurts. In most cases, sun damage to the eyes accumulates slowly over time, without your noticing until irreversible harm has been done. That harm can include several conditions that affect your ability to see, a rare form of eye cancer, and skin cancer.
Just as sunscreen shields your skin by blocking UV radiation, sunglasses can shield your eyes from harmful rays. But not every pair is equally effective. Here’s what you should know about how the sun can injure your sight, and how sunglasses can help safeguard your eye health.
Health Risks to Your Vision
Evidence suggests that excessive exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that can blur vision. For instance, a 2014 study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that people who lived in places with more sunlight are more likely to need surgery to remove a cataract than those living elsewhere.
Sunlight may also contribute to an increased risk of macular degeneration (MD), which occurs when the macula, a part of the retina, becomes damaged, causing distortions in what you see, blurriness, or difficulty discerning fine details. Although the link between sunlight and MD isn’t definitive, an analysis of 13 studies, published in 2019 in the journal International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, found that outdoor workers with long-term exposure to sunlight were more likely to have the condition.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, long-term exposure to sunlight may also be a risk factor for melanoma on the surface of the eye. Skin cancers can also occur on the skin around the eyes, including the eyelids. Looking directly at the sun or the bright glare from water, snow, or ice for too long can also damage parts of the eye, causing a condition called photokeratitis. Symptoms include temporary discomfort, blurriness, and light sensitivity.
The Right Sunglasses Can Help
To help limit your exposure to sunlight, wear a hat and sunglasses when you head outside, even on cloudy days, advises Marilyn Schneck, Ph.D., a scientist with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. And keep the following in mind while choosing your shades:
Look for the most protection. Opt for a pair whose label says the product blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays, two concerning types for eyes. (The term “UV 400 nm” also means the glasses block at least 99 percent of UV rays.) If you wear corrective lenses, make sure they have UV protection built in.
Know that pricier isn’t always better. Confused about pricing? The most effective sunglasses aren’t necessarily more expensive. You can easily find inexpensive sunglasses that have 100 percent ultraviolet-blocking ability.
Go big. Even while wearing sunglasses, some of the sun’s rays can reach your eyes and the skin around them. Larger lenses can help maximize sunglasses’ ability to stop rays from reaching your eyes. Wraparound sunglasses, which conform to the curve of your face, are even better. They have the added bonus of protecting the skin around your eyes, which is difficult to cover with sunscreen.
Take care after cataract surgery. Although a cataract impairs vision, the cloudy yellowing of the lens also blocks some potentially damaging blue light from reaching the retina. Once the cataract is removed surgically, more blue light reaches the back of the eye. Wearing sunglasses and a hat can help protect the retina after you have cataract surgery.
Children need UV protection, too
The risk of damage to our eyes and skin from solar UV radiation is cumulative — meaning the danger continues to grow the more time you spend in sunlight throughout your lifetime.
With this in mind, it's especially important for kids to protect their eyes from the sun. Children generally spend much more time outdoors than adults.
In fact, some experts say that because children tend to spend significantly more time outdoors than most adults, up to half of a person's lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 18.
Also, children are more susceptible to eye damage from UV rays because the lens inside a child's eye is clearer than an adult lens, enabling more UV to penetrate deep into the eye.
Make sure your children's eyes are protected from the sun with good quality sunglasses or photochromic lenses when they go outdoors. Also, encourage your child to wear a hat on sunny days to further reduce UV exposure.
Tips about sunglasses and UV exposure
Many misconceptions exist about sun protection for your eyes. Keep these tips in mind:
- Not all sunglasses block 100 percent of UV rays. If you're unsure about the level of UV protection your sunglasses provide, take them to your eye doctor or optician for an evaluation. Many eye care professionals have instruments that can measure the amount of UV radiation your lenses block.
- Remember to wear sunglasses even when you're in the shade. Although shade reduces your UV and HEV exposure to some degree, your eyes will still be exposed to UV rays reflected from buildings, roadways and other surfaces.
- Sunglasses are also important in winter, because fresh snow can reflect 80 percent of UV rays, nearly doubling your overall exposure to solar UV radiation. If you ski or snowboard, choosing the right lenses is essential for adequate UV protection on the slopes.
- Even if your contact lenses block UV rays, you still need sunglasses. UV-blocking contacts shield only the part of your eye under the lens. UV rays still can damage your eyelids and other tissues not covered by the lens. Wearing sunglasses protects these delicate tissues and the skin around your eyes from UV damage.
- If you have dark skin and eyes, you still need to wear sunglasses. Although dark skin color may give you a lower risk of skin cancer from UV radiation, your risk of eye damage from UV rays is the same as that of someone with fair skin.
Start with an eye exam
Before purchasing sunglasses, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you. Even a small amount of refractive error or a small change in your glasses prescription can make a big difference in giving you the clearest, most comfortable vision outdoors.
Everyone enjoys a sunny day. But be safe and make sure you have the right sunglasses to shield your eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays. Our team of professionals at Solar Bat can answer any of your questions regarding Sunglasses and UV rays. Get in touch with us here.