People may think of sunglasses as a fashion statement. And maybe even as a way to see better on a bright day. But did you know that choosing the right sunglasses is important for protecting your eyes from short- and long-term damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays?
What do UV rays do to your eyes?
Exposing your eyes to too much sun can lead to a number of problems including:
- Cataracts—cloudiness on the clear lens of the eye that makes things look blurry, hazy, and less colorful.
- Cancer—called ocular melanoma that develops in the cells in or around the eye.
- Pterygium and pinguecula—spots, bumps, or fleshy tissue that form on the clear covering over the white part of the eye. These can sometimes affect a person’s vision.
- Photokeratitis—temporary sun blindness that can happen when a person’s eyes are exposed to high amounts of UV rays for just a few hours and become sunburned. While it usually goes away on its own and rarely causes permanent damage, this condition can be quite painful.
While it often takes many years for eye disease like cataracts and cancer to develop, every time you are out in the sun without the right protection, you run the risk of causing damage to your eye that can lead to these kinds of problems.
Are you at risk for eye damage from the sun?
The fairer your skin, the lighter your eyes, and the older you are, then the greater your risk for developing eye damage. And if you spend a lot of time outdoors for work or leisure (think surfers, skiers, snowboarders, people who fish, farmers), your risk is even higher. But even if you don’t have any of these risk factors, you can still be at risk.
Sun damage to the eyes can happen whenever you’re outside no matter what time of year it is, not just summertime. Sunlight reflected off sand and water can lead to eye damage. In the winter, sun reflecting off snow can lead to a number of eye problems. Eye damage can even happen when using tanning beds and on hazy days and through thin clouds.
The bottom line is, we’re ALL at risk for sun damage to our eyes, so it’s important to wear the right kind of sunglasses whenever outside.
UV-blocking sunglasses can help protect your eyes
Sunglasses are an easy way to protect your eyes from the sun—but make sure that they offer UV protection. Keep in mind that the standards and labeling for UV protection are done voluntarily by sunglass manufacturers and can be confusing. Here are some tips that can help you make an informed decision:
- Look for sunglasses that have a sticker or tag that says they block 100 percent of UV rays. Some sunglasses are labeled “UV absorption up to 400nm.” This is the same as 100% UV blocking.
- Just because they’re expensive or have colored lenses doesn’t mean sunglasses offer UV protection. The same is true for lenses that are very dark.
- Polarized sunglass lenses reduce sun glare, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they protect against UV rays.
- Oversized or wrap-around sunglasses (that block 100% of UV rays) provide better protection from UV rays entering your eyes from the sides.
- Choose sunglasses with frames that fit close to your eyes and match the shape of your face. This helps to block UV rays from all sides.
Don’t forget the hat and sunscreen
As important as wearing sunglasses is to protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays, there are other things you can do. For example, wearing a hat with a minimum of a 3-inch brim can block UV rays. And, because sunglasses can’t cover your entire face, it’s also important to put sunscreen on your face.
Be especially careful with your child’s eyes
Protecting your child’s eyes from the sun’s UV rays is especially important. This is because the lens of a child’s eye cannot filter UV rays the way an adult’s lens can. To help prevent eye damage when he or she is outdoors, teach your child to get into the habit of wearing sunglasses. It’s also important that he or she wears a hat and sunscreen on his or her face.
What you can do
To be sure your sunglasses offer the best protection from UV radiation, talk with your ophthalmologist or optometrist. He or she can also help keep your eyes healthy through yearly eye exams.
- 1. American Optometric Association. Do Your Sunglasses Really Protect Your Eyes from the Sun? Accessed April 12, 2017.
- 2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. How to Choose the Best Sunglasses. Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. The Sun, UV Radiation and Your Eyes. Accessed April 12, 2017.
- 4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What Are Cataracts? Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is Ocular Melanoma? Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)? Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 7. Glaucoma Research Foundation. A Guide to Sunglasses. Accessed May 5, 2017.
- 8. Skin Cancer Foundation. Protect Your Eyes: Everyday Steps to Sun Safety. Accessed May 15, 2017.
- 9. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Summer UV Eye Safety. Accessed May 24, 2017.
- 10. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Winter UV Eye Safety. Accessed May 24, 2017.
- 11. Summer Safety Tips: Sun and Water Safety. Accessed May 24, 2017.