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Are Your Sunglasses Really Protecting Your Eyes?

The bright summer sun sends many of us to the drugstore or a mall kiosk to buy a new pair of sunglasses. We might try on 20 pairs, checking ourselves in the mirror to see if they look great on us and make the right fashion statement. But when it comes to sunglasses, how we look is far less important than how we see! Not all sunglasses are created equal.

Not everyone knows that, reports the American Optometric Association (AOA), the professional group of America’s family eye doctors. They conducted a survey that found that when selecting sunglasses, fewer than half of American consumers consider the amount of protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that a pair of shades provides. Overexposure to UV rays can cause short-term vision problems and even permanent damage.

If the eyes are unprotected and exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, even just a few hours, individuals may experience an effect called photokeratitis, known as a “sunburn of the eye.”

“Photokeratitis may be painful and include symptoms such as red eyes, a foreign-body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing,” said Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., chair of the AOA Commission on Ophthalmic Standards. “Fortunately, this is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.”
But long-term overexposure to UV radiation over the course of one’s life can cause more serious problems, such as damage to the eye that can result in cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, pterygium (an abnormal growth of the white of the eye onto the cornea, or clear window at the front of the eye) and cancer of the eyelids, skin around the eye, and even the eye itself.

The AOA offers a free, online guide to sunglasses shopping. Here are some of their top suggestions for selecting a pair of sunglasses that will adequately protect your eyes:

  1. Be sure your sunglasses block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. While some contact lenses also offer UV protection, these should be worn with sunglasses to maximize protection. Labels can be confusing; ask your optometrist for advice.
  2. Your sunglasses should screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.
  3. The frame of your sunglasses needs to fit close to your eyes and contour to the shape of your face. This prevents exposure to UV rays from all sides, even from behind.
  4. Pick lenses that are perfectly matched in color and are free of distortion and imperfection. Lenses should also have a uniform tint, not darker in one area from another. (Gradient lenses should lighten gradually from the top to bottom.) The AOA suggests a gray tint, which is particularly helpful when driving, as it offers the best color recognition.

See the guide to find more advice on selecting sunglasses, and to learn about the various options your eye doctor offers.

Source: The American Optometric Association (AOA), adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. Visit the AOA website to find more consumer information about vision care and eye health.

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