Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun’s UV Rays

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While most of us tend to worry about our skin when we’re outside, there are good reasons for taking care of our eyes, too.

Why do our eyes need protection from the sun?  Your eyes and the sensitive skin around them can be damaged if exposed to excessive sunlight. While cancer of the eye is rare, basal cell carcinoma of the surrounding skin is relatively common. Excess ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure may also lead to cataracts and pterygium (non-cancerous growth of the conjunctiva). During peak UV radiation periods between 10:00 a. m. and 4:00 p.m., the use of sunglasses is encouraged. Also, hats are important! A legionnaire, broad-brimmed (minimum 7.5 cm brim) or bucket (minimum 6 cm brim) hat provides significant protection for the eyes. Use of a hat alone can reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching the eyes by around 50 percent; sunglasses in combination with a hat can reduce it by up to 98 percent.

Children and sunglasses – There is no agreement among ophthalmologists (eye specialists) as to whether children should wear sunglasses or not. On the one hand, there is evidence that overexposure to UV radiation early in life can cause a predisposition to eye problems later on. However, it appears that children also need some exposure to UV radiation in order to develop protection against eye problems. Children should be encouraged to wear hats while playing outside.

Eye-deal UV protection – Some people buy sunglasses purely as a fashion accessory, while others have special lenses made specifically to suit their vision needs. Eyes have three natural was of coping with the sun:

Eyelids act like blinds on a window to shut out light at will.

Pupils work like a camera aperture, adjusting, opening and closing according to the intensity of light they are exposed to.

The retina at the back of the eyes adapts to different brightness levels.

All three natural mechanisms respond quickly to variations in visible light, but they cannot completely keep out UV radiation (which is invisible). UV radiation can be damaging to healthy eyes if exposure is excessive. The same UV exposure that causes sunburn can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration and premature ageing changes in general. The right sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV. However, a colored lens does not necessarily reduce UV absorption – sometimes it will only reduce the amount of light you see. It is important to make sure your sunglasses do not only reduce brightness but also protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation.

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What should you look for when choosing sunglasses? – The most important aspect of any pair of sunglasses is the lens quality. Lenses come in a huge variety of tints, and can be made of glass, various plastics, or polycarbonate. Glass lenses are generally more resistant to scratching. However, the are more easily broken than plastic lenses – a safety risk when playing sports and the like. They are also likely to be heavier and therefore potentially less comfortable. High quality glass lenses are excellent at selectively absorbing undesirable rays and are available in fixed (solid) or photochronic (light sensitive) tints. Although price is important for everyone, it is important to think of aspects such as value for money and how long your sunglasses will last. Remember, you only have one set of eyes, so protection from damaging UV and infrared rays ought to be a priority. To ensure your sunglasses last as long as possible, we recommend storing them in a case that provides strong protection. These are available from your optometrist.  Your optometrist can provide you with sunglasses and vision information tailored to your individual needs. You should ask any questions you may have, take your time when choosing from the range of options, and be careful in the care and maintenance of your new sunglasses. That way, you should feel safe in the knowledge you are protecting your eyes in the best possible way.

Vance Madrid

Freelance writer, lifestyle blogger, social media manager, events coordinator, scriptwriter, film buff, wanderlust and certified foodie. Zealous for a keyboard and new experiences, I wish to live and learn through my writing.