We often think about wearing sunglasses during the summer months to reduce glare and eye strain caused by the sun’s reflection off objects. At times, we believe that sunglasses will ‘block out’ the brightness of the sun and others wear them as part of their fashion statement, whether needed or not.
There is a health-side to wearing sunglasses if you choose the right ones. The invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause skin to tan and to sunburn also cause problems with vision. So if you are going to wear tinted lenses or sunglasses, anyway, make it count – wear what will protect you while gaining some anti-glare or ‘looking cool’ benefit.
There are three types of UV rays that can cause health concerns. UV-C rays are blocked almost entirely by the ozone layer that goes around the earth’s atmosphere so as long as we don’t have a hole or ozone depletion, UV-C rays are not quite the health problem at the moment.
UV-B rays are what cause tanning and sunburn as well as wrinkles. We protect our skin from these rays by using sunblock with a SPF rating of 15 or higher. These rays are also linked to a condition known as ‘photokeratitis,’ a fancy term for ‘snowblindness.’ This condition occurs from snow (which reflects 80% or more UV rays) or from sand at the beach, where the rays are reflective rather than absorbed. The condition is painful and can cause temporary loss of vision for up to 48 hours after long-term over-exposure.
UV-A rays create vision concerns, as well. These rays can pass through the cornea of the eye and directly affect the retina and lens. Over-exposure to UV-A rays are known to cause cataracts and contribute to the cause of macular degeneration.
To protect our eyes from UV-B and UV-A rays, a sunblock for the eyes is as important as sunblock to protect skin. That is achieved by wearing sunglasses that block 100% of the UV rays. A wrap-around close-fitting frame is preferred over a more traditional style. It is not how dark or light a lens is that provides the protection so read the tag or check with your optician. Also, wearing a hat with a brim can reduce UV exposure
Risk to our eyes is cumulative, meaning the more exposure and the longer the time of exposure to UV rays increases our risk. Getting started early on with our children by taking protective measures now will greatly reduce their risk of developing UV-related vision problems when they are older.
Have you ever heard the weather person or seen the forecast with a UV Index? This is a number between 1 and 11 – the higher the number the greater the UV exposure and more protective measures that need to be taken. With a UV index of as little as two, sunglasses with UV blockage are recommended to be worn. Also, increased exposure to UV occurs when the sun is high (10am-2pm).
Summer eye protection is important. Start today!