While sunglasses are fashionably cool, they serve an even more important purpose: preventing sun damage to eyes by shielding them from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
UV exposure and your eyes
You probably already know you should avoid looking directly into the sun. But even if you follow this rule, there are still many ways your eyes can become damaged.
That being said, keep the following in mind:
- Grass, soil, water, fresh snow, dry sand, and even sea foam can reflect up to 80 percent of UV rays into your eyes
- Rays are harshest in the morning and mid-afternoon
- Sun exposure is more continual in fall, winter, and spring when the sun is lower in the sky
Also, remember that UV rays pass through clouds. So don’t be fooled into thinking protective eyewear isn’t necessary when the sky is cloudy.
Sunglasses: A great habit
- Exposure to UVB rays is closely linked with photokeratitis (which is like a painful sunburn on the cornea), cataracts, growths on the surface of the eye called pterygia, and a form of eye cancer
- UV rays can cause inflammation and short-term sun damage to eyes
- The eyelid is one of the most common sites for nonmelanoma skin cancers
Eye protection from the sun is crucial for children and adults with eye disorders. Children have larger pupils, clearer lenses, and are outside more frequently and for longer periods of time than most adults. Adults who already have eye problems are even more susceptible to UV rays and should take extra precaution to prevent sun damage to eyes.
Tips for shielding your eyes
Keep these tips in mind when choosing eye protection:
- Wear the right lenses. You’ll want sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Look for glasses that are labeled “UV 400.” The darkness of your lenses has no effect on UV protection, although darker lenses can be helpful, particularly if you are more light-sensitive.
- Wear the right frames. While most sunglasses can help block UV rays from entering through the lenses, most frame styles do not prevent rays from reaching the sides, top, and bottom of the glasses. Close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses, or lenses large enough to completely cover the eye and prevent as much light as possible from entering through the edges of the glasses are best.
- Don’t count on your contacts. While UV-blocking contact lenses provide important protection, they shouldn’t be viewed as a stand-alone solution. Most contact lenses don’t offer UV protection. And, of those that do, not all provide similar levels. Regardless, contacts don’t cover the entire eye, so contact lens wearers should still wear sunglasses.
- Double up. The best means of protecting your eyes is to wear a combination of high-quality sunglasses, UV-blocking contact lenses, and a wide-brimmed hat.