Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, especially during the warmer months of the year, can be harmful to vision and eye health.
The health risks associated with unprotected exposure to UV rays have been repeatedly publicized for many years.
Although many consumers wear eye protection, a majority of them are unaware of the most important factor when selecting a pair of sunglasses, protection against sun damage caused by UV rays.
“Overexposure of the eyes to UV rays can be considered a risk factor for cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer on the eyelids,” Wisconsin Optometric Association (WOA) Dr. Kellye Knueppel said. “When searching for proper sun protection, you should always look for sunglasses that block more than 95 percent of UV-A radiation and more than 99 percent of UV-B radiation while screening out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.”
It is important to ensure that sunglasses provide an adequate amount of UV protection, as not doing so can result in painful, serious consequences for vision and eye health.
“Other disorders that can occur are abnormal growths on the eye’s surface and even sunburn of the eyes,” Knueppel said. “These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing and temporary vision loss. Damage done to the retina can cause macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness for adults in the U.S.”
According to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) eighth annual American Eye-Q Survey, only 28 percent of respondents answered that UV protection is the most important factor in their minds when purchasing sunglasses.
Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, summer or winter, WOA members urge everyone to purchase sunglasses in order to protect their eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Often overlooked is the increased importance of UV protection for children.
“The lenses of a child’s eyes are more transparent than those of adults, allowing shorter wavelength light to reach the retina,” Knueppel said. “Because the effects of solar radiation are cumulative, it’s important to develop good eye protection habits early in life.”
The WOA recommends the following when purchasing sunglasses or protective contact lenses:
• Make sure the sunglasses/protective contact lenses being purchased provide an adequate amount of UV protection, blocking out more than 95 percent of UV-A radiation and more than 99 percent of UV-B radiation. They should also screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.
• Check to make sure sunglass lenses are evenly colored and free of distortions or imperfections.
• Purchase gray-colored lenses because they reduce light intensity without altering the color of objects to provide the most natural color vision.
• Make sure the frame fits close to the eyes and is contoured to the shape of the head, in order to prevent exposure to UV radiation from all sides.
• Don’t forget sun protection for young children and teenagers, who typically spend more time in the sun than adults this time of year and are at a greater risk for vision and eye damage.
For additional information on UV protection, visit aoa.org/uv-protection.xml.