Sunglasses are often thought of primarily as a fashion accessory or a way to hide tired eyes. But they can actually play an important role in protecting your eyes and the skin around them from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun.
We spoke with Andrew Iwach, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and executive director of the Glaucoma Center in San Francisco, about the health benefits of wearing sunglasses and how to choose the right pair for you.
Why sunglasses are important
Regularly wearing sunglasses outdoors and in cars can help prevent conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts, certain eye and eyelid cancers, as well as photokeratitis (sunburn of the eyes), which can cause temporary pain, redness, , blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
Sunglasses that wrap around the temples can also help relieve dry eye symptoms and sensitivity associated with conditions such as thyroid eye disease. And wearing a hat with a brim will prevent more UV rays from reaching your eyes and eyelids.
Dr. Iwach stresses the importance of prevention when it comes to the skin around the eyes: “The skin around the eyes is particularly thin and delicate, so it’s much easier to prevent sun damage-related cancer around the eyes than to cure it.” .”
Sunglasses can be just as important in winter as they are in summer: They can prevent snow blindness, a type of photokeratitis caused by UV rays reflecting off snow and ice. In any season, light reflected off sand, water or concrete can have the same effect.
5 tips for choosing sunglasses
Sunglasses are sold in all kinds of stores, from convenience stores to department stores to dedicated sunglasses retailers, and they don’t have to be expensive to offer good sun protection.
But if you have eye problems or have questions about which sunglasses are right for you, Iwach recommends shopping at an optical store with opticians on staff to help you make the right sunglasses choice.
1. UV protection is a must
The sun’s UV rays directly damage eye tissue and can also cause cancer in the skin around the eyes. For this reason, you want UV-blocking sunglasses as part of your sun protection whenever you’re outdoors or in your car.
If you’re not shopping at an optical store with experts available to help, look for sunglasses with 100% UV or UV400 on the label. If there is no UV information on the package, please don’t buy it.
Iwach notes that while many other sunglasses features are optional, UV blocking is essential; without it, your sunglasses are just fashion.
2. Choose the darkness of the target
Another feature to consider is the darkness of your sunglasses lenses. While the darkness of the lens has nothing to do with the amount of UV protection it provides, it still affects the comfort of wearing the glasses.
People with conditions that cause sensitivity to light, such as migraines, may be tempted to seek out darker lenses, but wearing very dark lenses regularly can backfire: dark lenses let less light into the eyes and cause the pupil to dilate, which can actually increase eye strain and sensitivity to light over time. This is also why you should avoid wearing sunglasses indoors or in dimly lit areas.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends using medium-dark lenses for everyday use and darker lenses for brighter environments.
If you have persistent light sensitivity, this is a good reason to see an eye doctor for an evaluation.
3. Choose your lens size
The size of the lens is another factor to consider. The larger the lens size, the more UV rays it blocks, and the better the protection for your eyes from wind, dust and pollen. Large wraparound goggles offer maximum protection from the elements and can be a good option for anyone who suffers from eye irritation from allergies, thyroid eye disease, or other eye conditions.
4. Understand lens polarization
Polarized lenses have a chemical coating that reduces glare from the sun and other light sources. They can also prevent snow blindness and eye strain caused by light reflecting water or sand.
While polarization isn’t necessary, it can be an added benefit, particularly for activities like fishing, boating, skiing, and mountaineering.
However, there are times when wearing polarized lenses is not recommended by the AAO, including when driving at night or reading LCD (liquid crystal display) screens.
When shopping for sunglasses, look for a sticker on the lenses that indicates the sunglasses are polarized.
5. Choose the color of your lens
Sunglasses lenses come in many colors, including gray, brown, red, yellow, and orange. While color can dramatically change the style of your sunglasses, Iwach says the color of your lenses is purely a personal preference.
“The actual color of the lens has no bearing on UV protection, polarization or functionality,” says Iwach.
Like the darkness of the lens, you can experiment with different colors and find the option that works best for you.
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