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Dr. Marc Weinstein

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More often than not, the first thing that catches our attention is the fashion statement that the sunglasses make with every single appearance. People see sunglasses as a fashion accessory. However, its relevance goes far beyond these. The most important function which the sunglasses perform is protection. The sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays, among other things that may ultimately result in cataracts or possible blindness.

Is the sun harmful to your eyes?

Yes, it is. When your eyes are continually exposed to the sun, certain eye conditions  may occur, some of which are:

·         Cataracts: research has found a direct link between UVB and the development of cataracts. In its worst form, cataracts could lead to blindness if not treated early.

·         Pterygium: This is a condition that occurs when the eye is exposed to the sun for too long, especially when the sun rays bounce off water or snow into the eyes. The condition refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva such that it grows into the center of the eye. It could cause the eyes to get dry, itchy, or teary.

·         Keratitis: frequently exposing the eyes to the sun may cause the cornea to burn. The cornea is the part of the eye that directs light to the retina. Thus, corneal inflammation may lead to eventual blindness if not treated on time.

·         Eyelid Skin Cancer: like every other part of the body, the eyelids are susceptible to sunburns. Even worse if UV radiations are involved. Over time, frequent exposure to UV radiation could lead to eyelid skin cancer.

Do all sunglasses Protect from UV rays?

Unfortunately not. More specifically, sunglasses from back in the day didn't offer so much protection from UV rays. While contemporary sunglasses have UV protection worked into their lenses, not all do. Typically, most sunglasses brands indicate their UV protection on their labels. Such brands mostly state “100% protection against both UVA and UVB” or “100% protection against UV 400.”

In case there are no labels, you can also determine if your sunglasses are UV protected by visiting an optical shop. They'll be tested in a photometer and most times, the testing is free. In less than a minute, the test is done.

It is advisable to look out for sunglasses that have UV 400 protection. The UV 400 protects almost all of the sun's ultraviolet rays. This means that with UV 400, you can protect yourself from UVBs, UVAs, and ultraviolet rays with wavelengths as high as 400 nanometers.

If you can't get that, then the least you can go for is sunglasses that protect you from 75 to 90% of visible light and give UVA and UVB protection to block 99% of ultraviolet radiation.

Also, sunglasses that have larger lenses are more advisable because their wrap-around frames protect your eyes from all angles.

People tend to conclude that polarized lenses are UV-protective lenses. However, polarized lenses are special filters that cushion the effects of glare from reflected light. In the real sense, not all polarized lenses are UV protected.

Should I wear sunglasses in the winter?

Yes, you should. Why?

·         To protect your eyes from glares. Glare is sunlight that obstructs your view while the sun is rising and setting. Glares can be quite intense during winter because light reflects through ice, glass and mirrors, snow, and others. This is why you need your sunglasses to protect your eyes.

·         They protect your eyes from UV rays. Ultimately, they protect you from Keratitis, cataracts, Pterygium, and other conditions caused by UV rays.

·         They protect the eyes from wind and debris. The winds could be quite harsh in winter, such that particles keep flying around. Sunglasses are a good way to make sure that they don't get into your eyes. Also, the wind tends to leave the eyes dry. With your sunglasses, you can protect your eyes from getting dry and itchy.

·         When the light comes too bright, your pupil cannot adjust to that level of lighting. Your pupil then constricts so you have to strain your eyes. When you strain your eyes for too long, they begin to cause headaches which can be avoided by sunglasses.

What else can I do to protect my eyes from UV rays?

·         Stay away when the sun is the strongest. The sun comes out tough in the morning and mid-afternoon. As much as you can, stay indoors during this period.

·         Use hats. In case you can't avoid the sun, use hats to shield your face from the sun.

·         Wear UV protective contacts