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Good Sunglasses Can Prevent Eye Damage

By Marc Malouf, MD

While a painful, red sunburn immediately tells you that you’ve had too much sun exposure, sun damage to your eyes is usually silent until long after the harm is done.  Fortunately, your strongest defense is easy:  a well-made pair of sunglasses.

The sun is the main source of  ultraviolet (UV) radiation, emitting both UVA  (long wavelength) and UVB (short wavelength) rays that penetrate the ozone layer.  Over time, too much UV exposure can damage the eye in several ways, from front to back.  It can cause scar tissue to develop on the surface of the eye; early cataract formation; eye cancer; and damage to the retina, which can accelerate and worsen macular degeneration – a major cause of vision loss as people age. Most of this is cumulative damage resulting from years of overexposure to sunlight and is a particular danger for those who work outside for long periods of time, like landscapers, construction workers and fishermen. 

And if you think you are safe by staying away from the beach on sunny days, think again.  UV rays will penetrate clouds and haze, and will reflect off water, sand, pavement and even snow!   In fact, the effects of UV exposure are often increased by reflection.

Along with wearing a wide-brimmed hat, high-quality sunglasses from a reputable provider will provide your eyes with  the best protection from the sun’s UV rays.  Beware of sunglasses without UV protection; they can make the damage worse because the dark tinting of the glasses will dilate your pupils, allowing even more light and radiation to come in.

Here are the top 5 things to remember:

  1. Make wearing sunglasses part of your daily routine.
  2. Wear sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV protection (when in doubt, check the label before you buy). Make sure they block both UVA and UVB rays.
  3. Limit sun exposure during peak hours.
  4. For people who are at high risk and/or who work outside on a regular basis, consider extra protection. Wear wraparound sunglasses and hats and visors that prevent sunlight from sneaking around the sides of your face.  Also consider sunglasses with UV coating not just on the front surface, but also on the back.  These are only available by prescription.
  5. Get your eyes checked regularly and talk to your eye health provider about the best sun protection for you.

PS:  And don’t forget the sunscreen!

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