As the longer, sunny days of summer approach, many people pull a pair of beat-up, dusty sunglasses out of the side pocket of their car door and start wearing them while driving or spending time outdoors. The problem? If you think you’re doing everything you can to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, you may be making a big mistake.
UV Rays – A Year-round Fact of Life
Most people have heard or read that long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays increases the risk of developing a variety of eye-related health problems. Cancer and benign growths on the eye (pterygium, also known as surfer’s eye or farmer’s eye) is associated with increased UV exposure, but of bigger concern are cataracts, which are found in 30 percent of those aged 70 to 74 years of age, and in more than 50 percent of those over 80. UV radiation is known to contribute to the protein breakdown that helps cause cataracts and impaired vision.
But less well understood is the fact that we’re exposed to UV radiation all year-long.
— The two types of UV radiation that present health risks are UV-A and UV-B. They are part of the sun’s spectrum, and, like the sun itself, shine year-round.
— Short-term exposure to high levels of UV can have immediate health consequences – sunburn – but long-term, daily exposure to UV-A and UV-B is also of concern to healthcare professionals.
— Does UV exposure vary by season? Absolutely. During the summer, you can get three times more UV exposure than in winter, but what does not change is ongoing UV exposure.
— Other factors can impact UV exposure. Higher altitude locations see higher UV radiation levels. A snow field can reflect 30 percent of the sun’s UV, increasing individual exposure. Clouds can reduce, but won’t eliminate UV exposure, except in the case of heavy storm clouds.
In short, your eyes are exposed to UV radiation year-round, with exposure levels greatest in the summer season.
Three Ways to Protect Your Eyes From UV Rays Year-long
1. If you wear corrective lenses, the next time you buy regular eyeglasses, ask your optician if the lenses can be treated with a UV-blocking optical film. These microscopically thin, transparent coatings will not impair vision but can block harmful UV radiation. This means on cloudy days or when you’re outdoors without sunglasses, you’ll still be protected.
(Note: Eyeglass lenses made of polycarbonate and some plastics block UV without a special coating. Also, some contact lenses may have UV blocking properties. Your optician can provide details.)
2. Purchase the right pair of sunglasses for wear anytime you’re outdoors. For those who wear corrective lenses, make sure your optician specifies a UV-blocking lens material or a UV-blocking coating. Remember — dark tinting alone can’t stop UV rays.
If you wear contact lenses or don’t need corrective lenses, don’t forget that not all sunglasses block UV. Buy sunglasses labeled “UV400” or “100% UV Protection” to make sure that you’re getting real UV protection. When possible, choose wraparound designs to help block side exposure.
3. After you take care of yourself, make sure those you care about are taking similar steps when they’re outdoors, which means sunglasses for everyone outdoors – even kids. It will be the start of a lifelong habit with long-term benefits.
It’s more than sunglasses — make sure you’ve got the right UV protection for you and your family.
To continue to maintain and monitor your retina health, we recommend that you visit an eyecare provider that provides an optomap in your annual eye exam. To find a provider near you, visit www.optomap.com.