July is UV Safety Month, and while we are huge proponents of applying SPF 30 (or higher) on our skin before going outside in the sun, the primary focus in our office is the importance of protecting your eyes from damaging UV rays.
It’s common knowledge that staying too long in the sun without protection on your skin causes a sunburn. But are you also aware that the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can cause serious damage to your eyes? While the eyes can get sunburned (a condition called photokeratitis), it’s the cumulative UV exposure that often causes problems, including cataracts, macular degeneration or even eyelid cancer or cancer of the skin around the eyes.
Both the sun’s UVA and UVB rays can burn your eyes as well as your skin.
So how do you protect your eyes from the long-term, irreversible damage that UV rays cause? Sunglasses are a great start, but they have to be high-quality sunglasses that protect your eyes by blocking at least 99% of both the damaging UVA and UVB rays from the sun. The American Optometric Association also recommends that your sunglasses block out 75 to 90% of visible light and says that gray lenses are best for accurate color recognition.
While sunglasses amp up your cool factor, they aren’t just a fashion accessory: The sunglass lenses you choose for yourself and your kids are the single most important barrier you have between you and cumulative damage to your eyesight. Your optometrist or optician can recommend the ideal pair of sunglasses that will protect your long-term eye health, frame your face and fit your lifestyle.
Here are some frequently asked questions about the sun’s damaging UV rays and protecting your eye health.
- Do darker lenses offer an increased level of UV protection?No, they don’t. But unfortunately, about 42% of Americans believe that they do. In reality, dark lenses that lack full-spectrum UV protection can be more harmful than wearing no sunglasses at all. Why? Because dark lenses cause the pupils to dilate and take in more light—increasing the retina’s exposure to damaging, unfiltered UV rays when the same dark sunglass lenses don’t offer protection from UV rays.
- But for kids, those cheap glasses at the discount store are fine, right?Absolutely not. The reason: children and teens are outside in the sun much more than adults, to the point where your kids are exposed to up to three times more UV rays each year than adults! And when you consider that UV damage is both cumulative and irreversible, it’s essential to wear the highest-quality UV eyewear sun protection at every age.
- Should I wear sunglasses only in the summer, or all year long? All year long– and even on cloudy days. Just as you can get sunburned on a cloudy day, UV rays are present in our atmosphere 12 months per year. When you’re outside during the day, it’s important to protect both your eyes and your skin from the sun. That’s why they’re called “sunglasses” instead of “summerglasses.”
- What exactly is polarization?Polarization is an effective solution to neutralizing glare. Polarization is a type of coating on lenses that blocks horizontal light rays so they don’t enter the eye. Most glare we encounter is horizontally oriented, including light that is reflected off of flat surfaces such as sand, pavement, water, the hood of a car or even snow (but probably not this month). Sunglasses with polarized lenses can eliminate horizontal glare and make your vision more comfortable.
- Are brown eyes less sensitive to light than blue ones?Yes. The lighter your eye color, the less pigment you have in your iris – which means that more light can enter your eye. The darker the eye color and the more pigment you have, the less light that enters your eye. If you have light-colored eyes that are extremely sensitive to light, ask your optometrist about darker-tinted sunglasses to enhance your outdoor vision comfort.
- What if I need prescription glasses and sunglasses?There are three main sunglass options:
- Switch between two separate pairs as you go outside or inside.
- Choose frames that have magnetic clip-on sun protection.
- Opt for photochromic lenses, which get darker as they’re exposed to ultraviolet light. These are a convenient option for prescription lens wearers who don’t want to swap glasses when going outside or back in.
- Do pets need sunglasses?Well, no. Because they have relatively shorter lifespans, cats and dogs generally won’t develop conditions that result from cumulative exposure to UV rays such as cataracts or macular degenerations as humans are prone to develop. But pictures of pets in sunglasses are always fun to see!
Before you brave the bright summer sunshine, always slip on high-quality eyewear with lenses that protect against at least 99% of damaging UVA and UVB rays. Not only will you look cool, but you’ll also be protecting your eyes from the irreversible damage done by cumulative exposure to the sun’s UV rays. And if you need a fresh new pair of glasses to get through the rest of summer, come in and see us today!