Most of us share the common belief that sunglasses – Ray Ban, Maui Jim, Silhouettes and Nike – are great accessories worn for fashion aesthetics on occasion. Despite these being excellent brands providing an array of protection options, we sometimes overlook the fact that consistently wearing sunwear is essential for eye health and safety.
From an ocular health standpoint, it is imperative to shield your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, long-term exposure to sunlight increases the risk of cataracts and growths in and around the eye. UV rays hitting the unprotected eye causes oxidative stress, a harmful chemical reaction. The protein within the lens that keep it clear is eventually destroyed which causes it to darken over time, resulting in a cataract.
Strong exposure to sunlight can also lead to short-term conditions such as pterygium, pinguecula and photokeratitis. Also known as Surfer’s Eye, pterygium is the fleshy, scar tissue growth that can appear in teens and young adults who spend long hours in the sun or in intense UV conditions. Surfers, skiers and fisherman are highly subject to developing pterygium. Similar to pterygium, pinguecula is a growth on the conjunctiva that resembles a yellow ‘spot’ due to the result of protein or fat deposits; also a result from prolonged exposure to UV rays. Sun reflection from the water and snow can also cause photokeratitis, a painful condition that is essentially a sunburned eye. Patients who suffer from photokeratitis may experience redness of the eye, eyelid twitching, swelling and temporary vision loss.
When choosing and purchasing sunglasses, a patient must take into account the necessity for wearing eye protecting consistently when going outdoors and being exposed to UV rays, regardless of the weather. The best sunwear offers 99% or higher UV absorption. How the sunglasses fit is also an important factor. A pair of sunwear should fit snugly and wrap around your eyes, lining up with your brow, which will block stray UV light. Polarized lenses on sunglasses are also helpful because they reduce glare when a patient is exposed to bright sunlight. Polarized lenses DO NOT take the place of UV protection, rather these specs work in tandem with one another, providing eye protection and comfort for the wearer.
When you pick your new pair of sunglasses, remember that it is important to wear them if it is sunny outside or cloudy. UV damage to eyes occurs the moment they are exposed. The benefit to wearing sunglasses is that they will protect your eyes from the short and long term effects of UV rays. Of course, you will be looking your best while doing so.