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Importance of Wearing Sunglasses

by Staff Writer
Sunglasses are typically sold as fashion accessories, leading many people to believe they're simply used to make you look hipper or cooler and to make it so you don't have to squint on a bright day. The truth is that the right pair of sunglasses can actually protect your eyes from damage, making them an important part of sun care.

The Short-Term Effects of Sun Exposure

When you're out in the sun, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays found in sunlight can irritate your skin, producing the redness, hot sensation and inflammation that we commonly call sunburn. Being outside on a sunny day can actually cause short-term irritation to your eyes as well. This condition is known as photokeratitis and occurs when the lining of the cornea, the part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil, becomes swollen and inflamed. Photokeratitis can leave your eyes feeling gritty as if you have something stuck in them. It can also make your eyes feel sensitive to light and cause them to become watery and red. Like a sunburn, these uncomfortable symptoms typically fade gradually after sun exposure.

Long-Term Consequences of the Sun

Repeated exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun can slowly lead to serious damage to the eyes. Ultraviolet energy can damage the retina, the part of the eye that is responsible for vision. There is some evidence to suggest that this damage plays a role in age-related macular degeneration, a gradual loss of vision that affects the elderly. Sun exposure has also been linked to the development of cataracts – clouding of the lens of the eye that reduces vision.

What to Look for in Sunglasses

Sunglasses can help decrease both the short-term and long-term damaging effects of the sun, but only when you wear the right type. Choose a style that blocks 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. You will sometimes see full UV protection described as "UV absorption up to 400 nanometers" or "UV400" protection in product descriptions for sunglasses. When selecting sunglasses, choose a pair that is large enough to fully cover your eyes. Wraparound styles that also protect the sides of your eyes offer the most complete sun protection. If you wear eyeglasses, talk to your eye doctor about getting a prescription pair of sunglasses to swap for your normal glasses when you need sun protection.

When Sunglasses Are a Must

You should wear sunglasses every time that you plan to be outdoors for an extended period of time whether you're on the beach, by the pool or doing work in the yard. Sunglasses are also important to wear on sunny days in the wintertime when the light of the sun can reflect off ice and snow, increasing your exposure to ultraviolet. If you take any medications that cause extra sensitivity to the sun or photosensitivity, you should wear sunglasses whenever you're outdoors.

If you've gone without sunglasses for years, it's never too late to begin protecting your eyes with a high quality pair of UV-blocking sunglasses. Talk to your eye doctor or your physician for more information about the effects of the sun on your eyes. Sunglasses should be a part of your daily sun care routine.