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What Are Polarized Sunglasses?

What Are Polarized Sunglasses?

We all know wearing sunscreen protects our skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. Putting on a pair of sunglasses helps to protect our eyes from the same risk. 

UV radiation can raise the chance of developing eye disease, especially cancer and cataracts. While extremely bright lights in general, like direct sun, can slowly damage the retina and optic nerve.

When selecting a pair of sunglasses, go for a pair that offers complete coverage of the eye and blocks both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA rays tend to penetrate further, causing cancer, while UVB causes immediate damage to the outermost cells. Never pick up a pair of sunglasses that doesn’t say 100% UV protection. Blocking both is essential to maintaining eye health. 


But what about that other label that crops up when shopping for sunglasses?


What Are Polarized Sunglasses?

You will often see sunglasses marked as providing UV protection and being polarized. As light travels through space, it acts as a particle and a wave, meaning that it vibrates and moves across multiple directions. 

When it reflects off of a surface like water or metal, it reorients and vibrates in only the horizontal direction. This change is called polarization, and it acts to concentrate light rays.

More light enters the pupil and hits the retina as light concentrates. A pair of polarized sunglasses have lenses that are treated to filter out this horizontal light. While UV protection relies on special dyes and pigments that absorb the radiation, polarized lenses use what are essentially thin vertical slats that break up and block horizontal light waves from passing the lens.

You won’t notice these vertical lines directly when you wear the glasses. But the effect they have on filtering concentrated polarized light is enormous.

Benefits of Picking Polarized Lenses

Polarized lenses naturally reduce the amount of light entering the eye, whether you are in an area where sunlight is reflecting off surfaces or not. But the real benefits come if there is an intense amount of reflection occurring. You’ll see the most significant benefits of opting for polarized sunglasses when:

  • Driving your car or riding a motorcycle.
  • Water sports, fishing, or going to the beach
  • Outdoor activities in snowy conditions

By reducing glare, you will see boosts to visual clarity and help prevent fatigue. 

1. Visual Clarity

Not having to squint or look around glare makes it much easier to see things clearly when out in bright sunlight, whether you are trying to focus on small writing, sports balls, or road lines. Lowered glare increases depth perception and allows you to focus on what is essential more easily. Sun glare is a noted risk factor for driving accidents, especially around intersections.

2. Reduced Fatigue

Constantly having to deal with sun glare over extended periods of time outside can greatly fatigue your eyes, reducing the speed at which you can focus on objects. Overexertion over time leads to eye strain which can leave your eyes feeling sore, tired, and hard to keep open.

3. Drawbacks to Polarized

While opting for a pair of polarized sunglasses is recommended, there are a few scenarios where non-polarized lenses are safer. If your vehicle has a vital feedback display that uses LCD screens, polarization can make those very difficult to read. And in some snow sports like skiing, glare reduction can make it challenging to detect icy patches. 

Sunglasses and Eye Health

Sunglasses are essential to wear for maintaining good vision throughout your life. Don’t be fooled by a dark pair tinted pair that look nice either. Be sure to pick one that protects against UV radiation and, if appropriate, has polarized lenses. 

Wearing sunglasses regularly while outdoors, even on slightly overcast days, can help:

  • Protect against UV radiation
  • Keep dirt and debris from damaging the cornea
  • Improve visibility by reducing glare
  • Lower the chance of headaches caused by fatigue

Prescription Sunglasses

For those with an existing eyeglass prescription picking out a pair of sunglasses isn’t as simple as selecting a pair you like with the 100% UV sticker. You will need to take into account your existing eyesight considerations. Most brands offer a version of their lenses that provide these protections and can still be matched to your prescription's needs. 

Eye Care Specialists

If you have selected a pair of sunglasses and want to really know if they provide the correct amount of protection for your eyes, think about taking them into your annual eye exam. Your optometrist may be able to test the lens to verify UV protection levels and polarization. 

Asheville Vision and Wellness has been helping patients throughout the mountains of western North Carolina with their eye care needs since 1989. We provide comprehensive eye care from annual exams, management of chronic conditions, glasses and contact lenses.

 Our experienced staff can help you and your family determine the right glasses and sunglasses to keep your vision safe.

Come see what sets us apart and put yourself on a path to healthier eyes. You can conveniently schedule an appointment online or call on weekdays during our office hours.