Last updated June 2022
Wearing sunglasses is not only fashionable and fun, but they also protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. And, when the sun is shining putting on a pair of sunglasses is just as important as applying sunscreen and wearing a hat.
“Most people realize that extended UV exposure to the skin is harmful, but many do not realize that extended exposure to the sun and its UV radiation has been associated with multiple types of damage to the eye, including pterygia, cataracts and macular degeneration,” says Irving Weissman, MD, an ophthalmologist affiliated with Steward Health Care.
UV radiation is defined by three types: UV-C, radiation that is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat; and UV-A and UV-B radiation, which can have long- and short-term negative effects on the eyes and vision.
Exposing your eyes to extreme amounts of UV radiation over a short period may cause photokeratitis, also known as “sunburn of the eye.” Photokeratitis can be painful, and the symptoms include red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Luckily, symptoms are usually brief and rarely cause permanent eye damage. When the eyes are exposed to solar radiation for a longer period, the risk increases for developing cataracts or macular degeneration later in life.
Wearing quality sunglasses that offer UV protection is key as well as wearing a hat with a wide brim. When selecting a new pair of shades, consider the following for adequate protection:
- Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
- Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
- Have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and imperfection
- Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition
- Wear wraparound frames for additional protection if you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight
As a reminder, sunglasses not only protect against UV rays. They also reduce the risk of cataracts and protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
American Optometric Association (https://www.aoa.org)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm)
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