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Protect Your Eyes from Damaging UV Rays

Why do we wear sunglasses? Contrary to popular belief, sunglasses aren’t just another fashion accessory: the lenses you choose for you and your family are critically important to protect your eye health.

You probably know that the sun causes sunburn, but did you know the sun’s ultraviolet rays can also damage your eyes? Cumulative UV ray exposure can cause cataracts and/or cancer of the eyelids and skin around the eyes. Three types of ultraviolet radiation are given off by the sun: UVA, UVB and UVC. Most of the UVC rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. A portion of UVB rays reach the Earth and can burn the eyes and skin. UVA rays, which do the most damage to your vision health of the three types, are not filtered by Earth’s atmosphere at all.

A quality pair of sunglasses is the key to protecting your eyes from irreversible UV damage. The American Optometric Association recommends that you wear sunglasses that block 99% of both UVA and UVB radiation to protect you properly. Your eye doctor can recommend the ideal sunglasses for your lifestyle.

June 27 is National Sunglasses Day. The Vision Council originated this day to remind us that sunglasses are an important health necessity – and that you should wear yours every day, whether it’s sunny or cloudy, winter or summer. Sunglasses and other UV-protective eyewear are key to protecting your long-term eye health.

Let’s address some commonly asked questions about protecting your eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

Does a darker lens offer a higher level of UV protection? No. Unfortunately, 42% of American adults think that it does. In actuality, wearing dark lenses that don’t feature full-spectrum UV protection can be worse than going without sunglasses at all. The reason: dark lenses cause your pupils to dilate, which increases your retina’s exposure to the damaging, unfiltered UV rays.

Do my kids need sunglasses too?

Yes. Here’s why: children receive up to 3 times more UV rays annually than a typical adult! Because UV damage to the eye is cumulative and irreversible, it’s vital to protect your eyes from UV exposure at every age. It’s critical to begin protecting kids from this harmful radiation exposure with quality sunglasses. In addition to receiving more UV exposure than adults, children are especially vulnerable to UV damage from the sun’s rays for two reasons: kids’ pupils are larger than adults’ pupils and their lenses are clearer – which means that more damaging UV rays penetrate into their eyes. This increased risk is serious, yet 34% of parents polled report that their kids aged 13 and under “rarely or never” wear sunglasses.

Do I need sunglasses all year, or only in the summer?

All year – and you should wear them even on cloudy days. UV radiation is present year-round, despite the season or weather. So, it’s important to wear proper eye and skin protection while outside during daylight hours. That’s why we call them “sunglasses” not “summerglasses.”

What exactly is polarization?

Polarization coatings on glasses block horizontal light rays from entering the eye. Most of the glare that we encounter daily is horizontally oriented: reflections off pavement, sand, snow, water or even the hood of a car. Polarization enhances vision by eliminating this type of glare. Many people are more glare-sensitive than brightness-sensitive when it comes to light (though most people are somewhat sensitive to both glare and brightness). Ask your eye doctor which you’re most sensitive to. If you’re more sensitive to glare, polarized lenses, which help to neutralize glare, are a smart option.

Are blue eyes more sensitive to light than brown eyes? Yes. Lighter eye colors have less pigment in the iris – so more light enters the eye. If your eyes are highly sensitive to bright light, opt for darker-tinted sunglasses to maximize vision comfort outside.

What are my options if I wear prescription glasses?

Those who wear prescription eyeglasses have 3 main options for sunglasses:

  1. Two separate pairs to switch on and off as you go inside and outside.
  2. Frames with magnetic clips, for clip-on sun protection.
  3. Photochromic lenses that darken when exposed to ultraviolet light and are a great option for people who wear prescription glasses but don’t want to switch to a different pair when they go outside. The advantage is convenience.

Do dogs need sunglasses? Well, no, not really. Because of their shorter life span, dogs don’t develop conditions from exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays such as cataracts and macular degeneration like humans do. But pictures of dogs in sunglasses are fun!

Before you go outside in the bright summer sun, be sure to slip on a pair of high-quality sunglasses that protect your eyes from the cumulative and irreversible damage of the sun’s UV rays. Ask your eye doctor which sunglass lenses are best for you!

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