‘Sunscreen’ for your eyes

Published in Eye Care, For the Health of It Author: Jeffrey Pearson,OD

Purchasing new sunglasses is often a light-hearted, fun shopping experience. And it should be. Sunglasses offer an opportunity for us to really show our style. However, it is important to know that sunglasses provide more than just a fashion statement. The most important reason to wear sunglasses is to protect our eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Some people are exposed to secondary UV sources such as tanning beds, welders or lasers, but everyone is exposed to the primary source of UV, the sun.

Exposure to excessive amounts of UV in a short period of time can result in a condition called photokeratitis. Ask anyone who has experienced snow blindness, a welder’s flash burn, a tanning bed without eye protection or sore eyes from a day of fishing without sunglasses and they will tell you how uncomfortable it is. Symptoms include redness, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling, extreme light sensitivity and very watery eyes. Fortunately, these symptoms are temporary and rarely cause permanent damage to the eyes.

Most people know that too much sun can cause sunburns and skin cancer. But we don’t often think about the long-term effects of chronic UV exposure on the eyes. Studies show that sun damage adds up throughout our lives. Those who are not protected increase their risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and pinguecula (an unsightly discoloration of the white part of the eye), among other conditions. It is particularly important to protect children’s eyes, as they have larger pupil openings that allow light in and they spend more time outdoors than most adults. You wouldn’t let them play outside without sunscreen. Make sure to protect their eyes, too.

When purchasing sunglasses, whether they are prescription or not, make sure to look for 100 percent UV protection or a label of “UV400.” That means they block out all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers (which includes both UVA and UVB rays).

You also want sunglasses that offer full eye coverage. Wrap around frames offer side protection to help block UV from entering from the sides or back of the frame. There are other options available to help protect your eyes as well. Polarized sunglasses offer superior glare reduction for light reflecting off water, snow, roads or any other flat surface.

Photochromic lenses, often known by brand names such as Photogrey or Transitions, change from clear to dark when they are exposed to UV. Be sure if you work outdoors and are required to wear safety glasses that they include UV protection. Some contact lenses offer UV blocking, but these do not cover your eyelids and surrounding structures, so it is still recommended to use sunglasses over them. A wide brimmed hat also provides a great deal of protection.

The opticians at CentraCare Optical are experts at helping you select appropriate sunwear for your prescription and lifestyle needs. Stop in and see them today!