Wearing a hat and protecting eyes from harmful UV rays is as much a part of sun protection as slathering on sunscreen.
USA Today reports that a “2009 survey by the American Optometric Association found that one in three adults are unaware of the eye health risks of spending too much time in the sun without proper protection.”
A report by Prevent Blindness America, a leading eye health and safety organization, says the cumulative exposure to UV light over time can contribute to “significant and lasting damage to the eye and vision,” including:
- Cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that can blur vision. It afflicts one in every six Americans over 40 and more than half over 80, about 20 million people. An estimated 20% of cases are caused by extended UV exposure.
- Macular degeneration, resulting from damage to the retina that destroys sharp, central vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in the USA.
- Pterygium, a tissue growth over the white part of the surface of the eye that can alter the curve of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can blur or obstruct vision and may need to be removed.
And, “even a few hours of intense, unprotected exposure can have consequences, says optometrist Sarah Hinkley of the American Optometric Association,” possibly leading to painful photokeratitis – or sunburn of the eye.
Wearing sunglasses or other eyewear that offer UV protection is the best way to shield the eyes from the sun. Consumers should consider the following tips in thereport by Prevent Blindness America when choosing a pair of shades:
- Buy from a reputable retailer: Their products will meet frame and lens quality criteria set by the American National Standards Institute.
- Look for UV protection: Sunglasses should filter UVA and UVB light.
- Try the sunglasses on: Fit and feel make a difference because sunglasses that are uncomfortable are less likely to be worn.
- Use multiple pairs: Different lenses and frames may be suited to various types of activities.
- Understand lens color: The darkness of a lens has nothing to do with UV protection, although various lens colors can offer other benefits. For instance, yellow- and brown-tinted lenses are best when used for water sports; gray, brown and amber are great for field sports; and mirror coatings work well for downhill skiing and snowboarding.
- Focus on design: For extra protection, wraparound glasses or glasses with larger temple pieces help block the sun from side angles.