We are all exposed to UV rays on a daily basis. Even on a cloudy day, high levels of UVA and UVB damaging rays penetrate the clouds. Everyone should wear good quality sunglasses that protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Contact lenses can provide some shielding, but you should always wear sunglasses over them for full protection of your eyes and the skin surrounding them.
Our patients often ask us, “How can I tell a good quality pair of sunglasses?” To give you the protection you need, sunglasses should block 99 to 100% of the damaging rays. They should be large enough to shield your eyes from rays from most angles. Our opticians can help you choose a good quality, fashionable frame that can be adjusted to fit you well. Your glasses prescription can be used to create sunglasses that help you see well, while providing the protection you need. Unlike over-the-counter sunglasses, our frames are warranted to guarantee their fine workmanship and the lenses are warranted for scratch resistance. Our opticians can advise you on the type and color of sunglass lenses. Polaroid lenses are great, especially for activities on the water. Photochromic lenses that change color can be a very practical alternative to a lens that is dark all the time. Many frames even come with a sun lens clip for extra convenience.
How do the sun’s rays damage the eye?
Intense, short-term of exposure can result in sunburned corneas, or photokeratitis. This is most often experienced while skiing or mountain climbing at altitudes where there are higher levels of UV rays. This effect is intensified by sunlight reflected by the snow. This sunburn affects the cornea – the lens on the front of the eye, causing discomfort and in extreme cases snow blindness, lasting until the cornea heals in a number of hours or days.
Few of us ever experience snow blindness, but everyone’s eyes are affected over the years by the cumulative damage to the lens and retina. These include cancers of the skin surrounding the eyes, pinguecula, pterygium, cataracts and macular degeneration. Be sure your sunglasses are large and fit close to your eyes to help protect the delicate skin around the eyes. Wearing a hat with a bill will give you added protection.
Often we see patients who have pinguecula on the conjunctival surface of the eye. These are yellowish elevated deposits on the clear conjunctiva that covers the sclera or white part of the eye. Pinguecula are the body’s adaptation to the irritation of UV rays and are evidence of too much sun exposure. It’s never too late to get started wearing sunglasses to slow down the progression of sun damage. In equatorial regions many people have a much more visually threatening change to the eye’s surface called pterygium. These elevated wedge-shaped lesions can become so large that they obscure the vision and require surgical excision. Doctors Suzan and Brad Grimm spent many years in the South Pacific and Saudi Arabia, where vision loss from pterygia is common. Even here in the Northwest we see pinguecula in people who have moved here from sunnier regions of the U.S. or who spend lots of time outside.
Most people eventually develop cataracts. A cataract is a decrease in the transparency of the lens behind the pupil. Early cataracts are usually seen in patients in their 50’s and 60’s. At this low level of opacity patients notice more glare, especially at night and in rainy conditions. The development of cataracts is accelerated by UV exposure. Cataracts can be removed with surgery, but it is certainly better to delay the need for eye surgery by wearing UV protection.
The greatest concern we have concerning UV is damage to the retina. The retina is the neural lining in the back of the eye that transmits images to the optic nerve and brain. The risk of developing macular degeneration is increased with sun exposure. The other things you can do to decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration are have a good diet with lots of vegetables and fruits, take Omega 3’s, get regular aerobic exercise, DON’T SMOKE!, and wear sunglasses and a hat.
One last note – The clear cornea and lens of a child’s eye makes it even more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays, though the damage may not show its effects for decades. Get the kids to wear sunglasses and a hat.
At Oakbrook Optical Eyecare we have a great collection of quality eyewear for women, men and kids of all ages. Stop in and see our knowledgeable, licensed opticians to help you select the sun protection you and your family need.