Medical Benefits of Sunglasses

11:36 AM

This blog has a lot of posts dedicated to sunglasses trends, but as an optometrist, wearing sunglasses means more than just a fashion statement.  Yes, I recommend sunglasses for ocular protection to my patients.  And yes, I truly believe that sun protection is beneficial.  If you are still on the fence about why your doctor is recommending sunglasses, here are the top reasons that your eyes do need UV protection!

1) UV light damage increases the risk for vision threatening conditions
Macular Degeneration photo courtesy
Extended UV exposure has been linked to several eye conditions, the most common of which include macular degeneration and cataracts.  While cataracts are not a disease of the eye (see this post for more information), the rate of progression and severity of the cataract greatly increases with sun exposure.  Macular Degeneration is a condition that can cause permanent blindness, where sun exposure compounds genetic and nutritional factors to cause permanent damage to the patient's central vision.  The damage from harmful UV rays accumulates over a lifetime, so even though macular degeneration is a condition that we see affecting vision later in life, protecting your eyes now can save your sight later. 

2) Sunglasses also protect the skin around your eyes and eyelids from harmful UV radiation
This is a point that is easily overlooked, but the skin around our eyes is very sensitive to sun damage as well.  There are multiple skin cancers that are common around eyelid skin, the most common of which is basal cell carcinoma (pictured below).   Most people are not applying sunscreen so close to their eyes, so wearing sunglasses will give that added protection.  If you notice a growth around your eyelid that seems to be increasing in size, changing in color, or scabbing or bleeding, please contact your doctor immediately to rule out a cancerous lesion!
Early basal cell carcinoma photo courtesy

3) Sunglasses can actually enhance vision
polarized lenses reduce horizontal surface reflections
photo courtesy
A recent study by N3L Optics (a supplier of sports equipment) shows that less than 66% of active outdoor athletes wear consistent sun protection.  If the health benefits listed above are not enough to sway your mind, athletes should also consider that polarized sunglasses can  enhance their vision for certain outdoor sports.  Polarized lenses help filter out annoying glare from horizontal surfaces that can cause eye strain and fatigue in activities like water sports and snow sports.  And yes, wearing sunglasses for snow and water sports are even more important due to the added light being reflected from the surface below.  UV radiation is now being bounced at your eyes both overhead from the sun and from the ground below you, putting your eyes that much more at risk.

What to look for in sunglasses
Wrapped Oakley frames--great for outdoor
 sports due to their full coverage protection
When I recommend sunglasses, I always tell my patients that they don't have to buy an expensive pair to protect their eyes.  Almost every pair of sunglasses sold over the counter are 100% UV-A and UV-B blocking.  For added protection, choosing a frame that is wrapped closer to your face can prevent those damaging rays from entering through the side of the lenses.  Beware, however, because wrapped frames can sometimes cause vision distortion.  If you hold your lenses away from your face and look through to a distant straight line, you should not see that line bend or wave through the glasses.  If you do, that means that there is some inherent distortion to the lenses.  If you are purchasing prescription sunglasses, your eye care provider will be able to tell you if the wrap of the lenses will cause too much visual distortion.

Some contact lenses even have UV protection--look for the information on your contact lens box.   Acuvue boxes have a little decal on the bottom front cover.

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