Seeing Clearly: Avoid Photo-Damage To Your Eyes!
Protect your vision every time you hit the outdoors
Your exposure to the sun may be doing more than causing acute sunburn, sun-induced skin aging, and possible skin cancers. In addition to all of that, the sun may also be slowly damaging the corneas, lenses, and retinas of your eyes. The good news? You CAN take precautions to protect your “baby blues” (or greens, browns, etc.)!
To protect your priceless vision, you need to wear sunglasses every time you are outdoors. Regardless of your outdoor activity — running, walking, fishing, golfing, biking, even swimming — you should get accustomed to wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of blue light and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. And that potential damage is much greater than you might imagine. Snow, cement, grass, and sand reflecting the sun’s rays thereby increasing the ocular hazards for all golfers, skiers, fishermen, beachgoers, and water-sports enthusiasts. Over time, UV radiation causes cataracts and has been linked to macular degeneration, a treatable but incurable condition that can lead to blindness. It can also cause pterygium and pingueculum — small growths on the sclera (the whites of your eyes) — as well as photokeratitis (a sort of conjunctival sunburn). There are also increasing reports of eyelid skin cancers and accelerated "crowsfeet" wrinkling, which may bother you enough to want to prevent it in the first place.
Sunlight’s damage to your vision is cumulative just as it is on your skin, so the lesson here is simple: Wear sunglasses whenever outdoors and start using them early, correctly, and all the time. Picking good sunglasses need not be difficult or expensive. Brand names like Oakley, Ray-Ban, Nike, Sundog, Callaway, SunBuster, and Adidas can be found all over. Other sunglasses are available that are every bit as good - sometimes even better! - and usually less expensive. Standard prescription eyeglasses can be treated with a material that provides UV protection while retaining a clear, nontinted appearance. In fact, a friend of mine dipped sunglass lenses as a side business through high school, and he revealed that the chemical that is used costs less than $1 per pair of sunglasses! That is a huge mark-up but your eyes are worth it!
Here are some tips for choosing the right pair to keep your eyes sun-safe:
- Look for glasses labeled with “Blocks 99-100% UVA and UVB rays." Pass on any sunglasses that do not meet these criteria; they are not worth whatever price is being asked, and you are buying a false sense of eye-security! Simply wearing dark, non-protective glasses is probably worse than wearing none at all since they would cause your pupils to dilate (widen) and allow more damaging UVB rays to enter your eyes, pass through your lenses, and hit your retinas.
- Polarized lenses reduce glare but can make it harder to read cell-phones, GPS, and other liquid crystal displays. Unless they are specifically treated with UV coating, polarized lenses don't offer UV protection.
- Photochromic lenses that darken with light exposure can reduce glare and help maintain clarity, although they may take time to adjust to different light conditions. Not all photochromic lenses offer adequate UV protection, so be sure to check the product label.
- Colored lenses may be helpful. Glasses tinted amber, grey, or green, can help minimize color distortion—an advantage to, say, golfers and sailors because they can make distant objects easier to see, especially in low light. Blue-blocking plastic lenses may make it difficult to discriminate the hues in traffic lights, however, and not all blue-blocking lenses offer adequate UV protection.
- Mirror-coated lenses help block visible light, but they don't necessarily block UV radiation. Sorry, Magnum PI!
- Wrap-around lens and wide-body aviator-type lenses are more protective. Because sunlight gets reflected, it can get to our eyes from all directions. The more your lenses fully encase your eyes, the less UV rays that will get inside.
- Make sure your sunglasses are comfortable and stay in place without rubbing or pinching. You may wish to use a drawstring to keep them in place.
- Some contact lenses also offer UV protection, but because contact lenses don't cover the entire eye it's still important to wear sunglasses for UV protection when you're outdoors.
There is much in the way of new sunglass technology. Some of the claims are real, and some are mostly hype. The bottom-line is that you do not have to go out and spend $400 to get an effective pair of UV-protective sunglasses. You should, however, invest in a pair that look and feel good so that you wear them whenever you are outdoors. Your eyes and vision are priceless gifts and worth the investment.
As always, share your knowledge with others in the field and remember: When you're out there...Be there!