Just like wearing white was once taboo after Labor Day, so too was there a stigma that reserved sunglasses for summer months. That’s no longer the case with shades, but the reasons have less to do with style and everything to do with protecting your vision.
Virtually everyone knows of the importance of sunscreen to prevent ultraviolet (UV) damage that can cause skin cancers. The sun’s exposure can also take a toll on your eyes, so sunglasses are preventive medicine with a look-cool flair.
The dangers of UV light
Though the warmth of the rays of the sun lose their intensity in autumn and winter, the component of sunlight responsible for damaging radiation continues to affect you. There are three types of UV light radiation, but only UV-A and UV-B make it past the ozone layer, though both types of UV light can affect your eyes temporarily or permanently.
The length of exposure sometimes doesn’t matter either. Both long- and short-term UV exposure may have damaging effects on your eyes.
Common UV-related eye problems
UV light can cause or aggravate a number of vision issues:
A cataract is a clouding of your eye’s lens, and UV-B light exposure is suspected as the cause of about 10% of all cataract occurrences.
Macular degeneration damages the retina over time and is the primary reason for age-related blindness. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can increase your risk.
Photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness, comes from high-level, short-term exposure to UV-B, including light reflected off snow or sand, and can cause painful, temporary vision loss.
Pterygium, commonly called surfer’s eye, is a non-cancerous tissue growth on the layer over the white part of your eye.
When occurring on the face around your eyes, the damage of skin cancer may present risks to your vision.
Other non-UV-related eye issues include dry eye, an imbalance in the components of your tear layer. Sunglasses can help prevent some of the exposure that contributes to dry eye conditions.
UV light risk factors
Some conditions, either medical or weather, can put you more at risk for eye damage due to UV radiation.
For instance, if you’re frequently involved in outdoor activity, you may already be more at risk. A high-altitude alpine skier faces even more of a threat, since the amount of UV light increases with altitude, climbing by about 5% for every 1,000 feet above sea level. Similarly, those who live at high elevations are at greater risk of UV-related eye issues.
Certain medications can also increase your eye’s sensitivity to light, and therefore to UV damage. Such drugs include birth control pills, diuretics, sulfa drugs, and tranquilizers. If you already have a retinal disorder, or have had cataract surgery, your risk also climbs.
Choosing the right sunglasses
While there may be funky and fun sunglasses at the dollar store, these may not offer you the necessary protection from UV radiation. When you’re shopping for sunglasses, look for eyewear that:
- Blocks 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B light
- Blocks visible light between 75-90%
- Have lenses of a neutral hue to aid color recognition
Remember that regular visits to West Vision Care can help you stay on top of eye problems before they turn serious. Call or click to arrange an appointment today.