The Sun and Your Eyes
Medical professionals, health officials — and even cosmetics companies — have done a good job raising awareness about the dangers of sun exposure. Stores’ seasonal displays are full of sunscreens, SPF moisturizers and makeups, lip balms, and more. We know that if we spend too much time in the sun, it damages our skin.
But what about our eyes? Many people don’t realize that the sun has a significant effect on these sensitive organs and even on our vision. Let’s talk UV rays to see why.
UV, or ultraviolet, rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation. The biggest source is, you guessed it, the sun. Scientists divided UV rays into three different wavelengths:
- UVA. These are the weakest — but that doesn’t mean they are harmless. These rays accelerate the aging process in cells and can even indirectly damage cellular DNA. They contribute to everything from wrinkles and age spots to some forms of cancer.
UVA rays can damage the retina and lead to conditions like macular degeneration (which affects central vision).
- UVB. If you get a sunburn, UVBs are to blame. They have a bit more energy than UVA rays, and they can damage the DNA directly. UVB rays are linked to most skin cancers.
These rays also affect the cornea and lens of the eye. This can lead to cataracts, photokeratitis (essentially a sunburn on your cornea), pterygium, also known as “surfer’s eye” (a bump that starts on the sclera, or white of the eye, and can reach the cornea), and squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva (a form of cancer).
- UVC. Fortunately, the atmosphere prevents the strongest UV rays from reaching the surface of the earth. There are some man-made sources, though, such as welding torches and UV sanitizing bulbs.
There is another type of radiation of which we need to be careful: HEV. High-energy visible rays, or blue light, can penetrate into the eye, causing damage to the retina. HEV exposure is associated with macular degeneration.
If you’re out for a day at the beach or puttering in the backyard, you have to be cautious of UVA, UVB, and HEV for your eyes’ sake.
Stylin’ Protection for Your Eyes
When choosing sunglasses, many of us think about the shape or how flattering they are on our faces. And this is important. Why not look your best! But make sure to select shades that will protect your eyes too. What should you look for?
- 99 - 100% UVA and UVB blocking.
- Wider frames. Sunglasses that fit closer to the eye will maximize protection.
- Large lenses. Look for sunglasses that completely cover the eye; you want to block as much light as possible. If you’re not into wrap-around glasses, aviators are a good choice. Go big and bold!
- Dark lenses. This is especially helpful if you are highly sensitive to light.
- Blue light-blocking power. Yellow and amber-colored lenses will help you block HEV rays, and they are a great option if you play outdoor sports.
- Polarized lenses. These are popular with fishermen, boaters, bikers, and runners because they greatly reduce glare.
If you wear glasses or contacts to correct your vision, you can also opt for:
- UVA/UVB-blocking contacts. Because they do not block as many rays as sunglasses, use them as a supplement to enhance your protection.
- Prescription options. Whether you choose a pair or two of prescription sunglasses or magnetic clip-on lenses that attach easily to your regular glasses, you’ll boost your own sun protection factor.
Don’t Forget the Kids!
Parents are used to holding down squirming children and trying to apply enough sunscreen. But don’t forget their sunglasses. Kids’ eyes absorb more light, thanks to larger pupils, and their radiation exposure can be three times that of adults. They’re also more likely to spend larger amounts of time outside — playing tag, climbing trees, digging up worms, and going on adventures of the imagination — so their exposure is even greater.
When choosing their sunglasses, make sure they block UVA/UVB rays just like yours do. Maybe you can invest in an extra-durable, scratch-proof, kid-proof version though!
Your team at Asheville Vision Associates is happy to help you find the right sunglasses to protect your eyes. Protecting your eyes and looking stylish: ✓