Every day - whether it is sunny or cloudy, and despite the season - we are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Most of the time we don't even realize it, as UV radiation is invisible to the eye. However, out of sight should not mean out of mind when it comes to UV radiation. This is why you should make sure you and your family always wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection while spending time outdoors during the day.
Just as sun can damage your skin — burning, wrinkling, skin cancer and premature aging. The sun can be just as nasty on the eyes. Too much unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause "photokeratitis." Just like a sunburn on our skin, photokeratitis is sunburn of the eye. It hurts, makes the eyes red, sensitive to light and tearful. These symptoms usually clear up quickly and cause no permanent damage to the eye.
However — you knew this was coming — unprotected exposure over long periods of time can and often does damage the eye, and the effects aren't good. This exposure can greatly increase the chances of cataracts (a clouding of the lens of the eye) and damage to the retina. Both conditions can seriously impair vision, and it is rarely possible to reverse either.
Adults and children alike are subject to the effects of the UV radiation. Over time UV radiation can cause severe damage to the eyes. Fortunately, this damage can be prevented by wearing sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection. If you wear prescription eye glasses, an optician can all also use your prescription for sunglasses.
Children spend a majority of their time in the summer outside and are therefore more susceptible to harmful UV rays. “Millions of parents are putting their children’s vision at risk,” said Susan Taub, M.D., F.A.C.S., of the Taub Eye Clinic in Chicago, IL. “The sun can do as much damage to your eyes as it can to your skin.” This is especially true for children, whose risk is higher because the lens in their eye doesn’t block as much UV rays and because they spend so much time outside.”
With that in mind, here are a few important points to keep in mind before you send your child out to play.
- Almost 50% of parents report that their children “seldom” or “never” wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection.
- Although 82% of parents feel it is important for children to wear sunglasses and 91% feel sunscreen should be worn, children are two times more likely to wear sunscreen than they are sunglasses.
- The lens’ in children’s eyes does not block as much UV radiation as they do in adults’ eyes, putting them at increased risk for sun damage to the eyes.
Adults also need to take precaution when they are in the sun. Before you go out without a pair of sunglasses again take note of the facts about UV damage.
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills, sulfa drugs, diuretics and tranquilizers can increase your risk to eye disease or impairment.
- Damage can include blurred vision, change in color vision or difficulty seeing at night.
- UV radiation can cause macular degeneration, cataracts, cancer among other diseases.
Furthermore, the damage from harmful UVA and UVB radiation is cumulative over a person's lifetime and may contribute to serious age-related diseases of the eye and sensitive areas around the eye. Because the damage is cumulative, it is important to protect eyes every day in all light conditions.
Protecting yourself and your children from the effect of UV rays on your eyes is easy! Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection are the best way to shield your eyes from the sun as well as dirt, dust and other particles that can irritate the eyes. An optician can assist you in finding a pair of sunglasses to fit your vision needs and your lifestyle!
Sunglasses — with or without a prescription — that can block out nearly all UV rays are now readily available, protecting the eyes and significantly reducing the risk of vision problems caused by sunlight. Lenses should be gray, green or brown and the larger the lenses, the better. Wrap-around sunglasses provide an extra measure of protection, as does wearing a hat with a wide brim. Contact lens wearers can get lenses that filter out a lot of UV radiation. While these lenses should not be used in place of sunglasses, they do help screen out light that comes in around the top and sides of glasses.
Look for sunglasses that block at least 99% of ultraviolet rays. UV protection is a concern for all of us. People at high risk for developing problems from UV exposure include those who spend long hours in the sun because of work or recreation, those who have had cataract and refractive surgery, individuals who have certain retinal disorders and people who take certain medications - such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers - that increase the eye's sensitivity to light. And children's eyes are particularly susceptible because kids usually spend more time outdoors than adults and their young eyes let more UV rays inside.
The best sunglasses are those purchased from an optician. This ensures the sunglasses have the appropriate amounts of UV filtering and are the best protection for your eyes while in the sun. Buying sunglasses from street vendors is risky. There's no assurance that the eyewear, no matter how dark the lens, will protect against UV rays.
Another way to help protect your eyes from UV rays is to wear photochromic lenses, which are eyeglass lenses that darken when exposed to UV light. Photochromics are a good choice for an everday lens because they automatically protect against UV. However, it is important to understand that not all plastic photochromic lenses block 100% UVA and UVB radiation.