Protecting your skin from the sun is important — but don’t forget about your eyes! An optometrist at Mass Eye and Ear explains why sunglasses are more than your favorite summer accessory.
Most people are aware of the harmful effects that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can have on the skin. But did you know that they can do just as much damage to your eyes?
According to optometrist Shannon Bligdon, OD,* sunglasses are more than a favorite summer accessory – they are often the first line of defense for your eyes against the sun’s harmful rays.
Wear Them Early and Often — And Set a Good Example for Your Kids
Just about everyone should get into the habit of always leaving home with their shades – including the kids.
“Starting the habit of leaving the house with sunglasses regularly when you’re young will promote good eye health and awareness in the future,” Dr. Bligdon said.
And wearing sunglasses is especially important if you live in areas where people are exposed to higher amounts of UV light.
People who live closer to the equator or at higher altitudes are typically in closer contact with stronger UV light rays, due to their proximity to the sun.
By starting at a young age and wearing them in all kinds of conditions – including snowstorms and even on overcast days – you and your kids can take small steps to prevent the quick progression of certain eye diseases.
Select the Right Frames for Optimal Protection
When it comes to choosing the right pair of sunglasses, Dr. Bligdon says, “bigger can be better.” This is because UV rays are coming at you from all angles, including above, below and from the sides, and bigger sunglasses will provide more protection to your eyes.
“Although celebrities are now wearing smaller, more stylish sunglasses, those aren’t ideal for coverage or protection,” she said.
Your frames should also have 99-100 percent UVA and UVB protection (often noted by a small sticker or description on their packaging).
Prevent Future Eye Issues
Extended exposure to the sun has been linked to chronic eye conditions, like cataracts and macular degeneration. Although sunglasses can’t fully prevent someone from developing cataracts or macular degeneration, Dr. Bligdon says “reducing your exposure to UV light can certainly help lower that risk.”
A more acute problem people can encounter from exposure to UV rays is pinguecula – a small growth that forms on the white part of the eye. While mostly a cosmetic issue, it can cause symptoms of dry eyes and discomfort (in this case, consult an optometrist for treatment).
Whether you are five years old or 50 years old, sitting on the beach on an overcast day or skiing on a sunny winter’s day, always make sure to protect your eyes from the sun’s strong UV rays by wearing sunglasses.
*Dr. Bligdon is no longer practicing at Mass Eye and Ear