CINCINNATI—Wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is a brilliant idea, a University of Cincinnati (UC) ophthalmologist says, but be sure when choosing those shades you’re not just making a fashion statement.
First be sure the brand you buy really does protect against UV light, says Joshua Sands, MD, associate clinical professor in UC’s department of ophthalmology. Then keep in mind the best quality sunglasses won’t do you much good unless they fit properly.
“Small, flat frames might look cool,” says Sands. “But they don’t offer protection from the sides, especially when you’re on the water or near other highly reflective surfaces—like snow when you’re not enjoying Midwestern summers.”
Play it safe, says Sands, and choose sunglasses that fit well and preferably wrap around the side of your eyes. And it’s always a good idea to wear a brimmed hat as well.
UV light, which is everywhere, can cause both short- and long-term vision damage, says Sands.
At best most people will only experience the acute, short-term effects from boating, waterskiing, or rafting in bright sunlight. Water reflects about 85 percent of the sun’s UV rays, which is a significant dose, Sands points out. It can result in a painful, blurred-vision condition called UV keratitis, caused by inflammation of the cornea. Elsewhere and at other times of the year the problem is known as snow blindness.
“Short-term UV keratitis is real,” Sands warns, “and it can happen in just a few hours. People hear that they should wear sunglasses and a hat to prevent vision damage, but often it doesn’t click.”
However, says Sands, be especially wary of long-term exposure. People who earn a living on the water or in permanently sunny climates face an increased risk of cataracts and skin (basal and squamous cell) cancer on the eyelid. And there’s also evidence that long-term exposure can cause macular degeneration, a disease in part of the retina that deals with central vision, which is involved in reading.
Left untreated, Sands says, long-term damage can even lead to blindness.
People exposed to high levels of UV radiation from the sun suffer high incidences of cataracts compared with those who stay out of the sun, or take proper precautions, says Sands. This is especially true of people with light-colored eyes and fair skin, but everyone, no matter their skin coloring, is at risk.
July is UV Safety Month. For more information on how to have fun in the sun while protecting your vision, log on to the American College of Ophthalmology Web site at http://www.aao.org/patients/eyemd/upload/uv_handout.pdf.