By Dr. Moes Nasser
One of the most common questions asked of an optometrist concerns UV light and its adverse impact on the eyes. Many patients today are somewhat aware of the negative effects of UV light on their vision and long term eye health. What begins as a general curiosity oftentimes evolves into a desire to balance both significant and impactful eye protection with fashion, comfort and practicality.
While the impact of the sun’s rays on our skin is widely known and protected against, the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and UVC rays on our eyes is less understood by the public as a whole. While UVB and UVC rays are partially or largely blocked and filtered by the earth’s ozone layer, depletion of that layer over time has allowed more of these damaging rays to reach the planet’s surface and affect our eye health and vision. Overexposure to sunlight, particularly in high UV areas like Houston, is suspected as a contributing factor in macular degeneration and cataract development. Both of these conditions of the eye can lead to clouded or blurry vision and eventually blindness. In the summer months, Houston averages a UV Index rating of 9, described by the EPA as having a very high risk of harm from unprotected exposure to sunlight and requiring both skin and eye protection.
While Macular Degeneration and Cataracts are perhaps some of the more commonly known eye diseases, other negative eye conditions may develop from long term exposure to UV light as well. Pterygium, a pink growth that forms over the white of the eye is believed to be caused by UV light, as is Photokeratitis, a “corneal sunburn” which is the result of significant, short term exposure to UVB rays. In addition, skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids has also been linked to prolonged UV exposure.
Polarized sunglasses are the most common choice for patients and optometrists for protection against UV rays and the damage they can cause. Polycarbonate polarized sunglass lenses block 100% of the UVA and UVB rays that would normally pass directly through the cornea and reach the lens and retina located within the eye. While the darkness and color of the sunglass lens is in no way related to its level of UV protection, it will assist with the reduction of glare and reflections and, depending on your type of use, and should be considered when making your purchase.
In choosing a sunglass frame, wearers should make a balanced decision between fashion, personal style and practicality. Today’s large women’s sunglass frames are ideal for maximum protection of the entire eye and surrounding area, and offer an easy stylistic choice for protection and style. Wrapped, sporty men’s sunglass frames not only offer a more fashion-forward look, but protect the eyes from reflected light coming from either the left or right of the wearer. In general, a typical sunglass frame should exhibit proper coverage around the entire ocular area, and sit as close to the eye as possible while remaining comfortable. Wearers who spend large amount of time outdoors, in highly reflective areas such as the beach, on the water, or in the snow should combine highly protective eyewear with face shielding hats for maximum protection against damaging UV rays and sunlight.
New research suggests that the majority of damage done to the eyes by UV rays is caused before age 7. For this reason, it is widely suggested that protective sunglass eyewear is worn as by children as early as possible. Even non-prescription eyewear is generally found to be 100% protective against UV rays and can do wonders in reducing the amount of damage a child’s eyes may receive from sunlight exposure. In addition, lighter skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed patients are significantly more sensitive to the glaring effects of sunlight and should take steps to protect themselves whenever possible.
Because of the negative effects of UV rays on eye health and eyesight, Vision Source doctors spend a good deal of time educating our patients on the steps necessary to protect themselves, particularly in Houston’s harsh UV-rich environment. The simple and easy task of wearing a pair of UV blocking polarized sunglasses not only protects you from glare and the sun’s damaging rays, it exists as a fashionable way to express personal style and tastes. Because of the ease of accessibility and potential low price point that doctors worldwide recommend polycarbonate polarized sunglass lenses to their patients to easily prevent common eye diseases and potential vision loss.
Dr. Moes Nasser is a Houston-based optometrist with Vision Source, North America’s leading network of private practice optometrists. www.visionsource.com.