Get ready for the rays: Protect your eyes this summer

Flip flops, sunscreen and sunglasses. It’s that time of year again when the sun shines, and everyone knows it. As you sit outside to enjoy a good book, attend a sporting event, or relax by the pool, there’s one thing you don’t want to forget—your sunglasses.

It turns out that all sunglasses are not created equal. Some are designed to protect your eyes from serious risks and others are just tinted lenses acting as a fashion statement. Luckily, eye specialist and Scott & White Optometrist Dr. Ashley Chennankara can help us sort out what to look for when protecting our eyes during the summer months ahead.

How to Protect Your Eyes during the Summer

“The best way to protect your eyes is using a brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection,” Chennankara said. “Basically using something that shields your eyes from the sun’s rays is the goal. A brimmed hat alone blocks only about 50% of the sun, so sunglasses are an added benefit.”

So for sun protection, the best combination is a brimmed hat and sunglasses. Although some may object to these preventative measures, Dr. Chennankara explains they can potentially save us from damage in the future.

Problems Resulting from Too Much Sun Exposure

A recent article told of a 69-year-old truck driver whose face was much more damaged on the side that was exposed to the sun, than the side that was not. Being exposed to the sun for long periods of time can gradually cause some unwanted problems.

Without proper eye protection…

  • You could be at risk for vision loss because of damaged eye tissue, called macular degeneration
  • You may develop a clouding of the lenses of the eye, known as cataracts
  • The front surface of the eye can essentially get sunburned, called photokeratitis
  • Especially in warm climates like Texas, you could be at risk for a  benign growth that covers the eye, called ptergium
  • Wrinkles around the eyes and face from squinting  or too much sun exposure

“I talk to my patients about the effects of long-term sun exposure on the health of their eyes and how these can be preventable by wearing sun protection while outdoors,” Dr. Chennankara explained. She also recommends an eye exam every couple of years, even if you don’t need glasses to catch other eye problems and diseases early on.

Bright and Sunny, and Cloudy too?

If you want to lower your chances of eye problems, read on.  Even if it’s cloudy outside, you still need to grab your glasses.

“The most common misconception I see is that sun protection is only necessary if you are light sensitive or only needed on a bright sunny day,” Dr. Chennankara said. “In reality, by protecting the eyes from the sun year round, a person can delay the onset of cataracts and decrease the potential for developing skin cancer around the eyes, macular degeneration, and even wrinkles.”

This is because even when it’s cloudy UVA rays can still pass through and cause damage to the eyes, so be sure to grab your hat and shades even if the sun isn’t beaming down.

The Reality of Sunrays

Dr. Chennankara explains there are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA rays are the least damaging, but they are able to penetrate deeper layers of tissue in the skin and eye and can pass through clothing, un-tinted glass, and even dense clouds.
  • UVB rays are what commonly cause sunburn, although they are often blocked by the clouds and appropriate clothing. These rays are the worst between 10am and 2pm.
  • UVC is the most dangerous of the three and is a problem due to the thinning ozone layer.

If a lens is simply tinted, it does nothing to protect the eyes from these types of rays.

The Scoop on Protective Sunglasses

Beware of Tint. If you pick up a pair of cheap sunglasses for a dollar or so, chances are they won’t give you the protection you need. That’s because sunglasses can be tinted but in reality, are not shielding your eyes. The tint of the glasses may help to shade some of the visible rays, but it may not be enough.

UVA/UVB Rays. It’s important to look for sunglasses that shield a recommended 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays. You can look for the label to see what percent your sunglasses will block to make sure you are getting full protection.

Shatter-Resistant. In addition to protection, it is good to look for a pair of glasses made with polycarbonate lenses. Dr. Chennankara says this is an added protective feature because they are shatter-resistant. We all know how it feels to have a nice pair of sunglasses, only to find them snapped or broken by a little toddler, or sitting on them as they were left on the seat of your car.

Cut Down Glare.  Choose polarized sunglasses because they offer the best type of protection by cutting down glare, which is definitely a problem during Texas summers. This would work well for people who like to spend time on the lake or may be bothered by the glare from other cars or objects on the road while driving.

Color of Lenses. The color of your lenses is personal preference. Gray doesn’t alter the color of objects and blocks out a lot of light overall. Brown or amber can make more objects more defined, so if you need more contrast consider those.

Where to Find New Shades?

For those looking to purchase new shades, check out one of our Baylor Scott & White Optical Shops. They have ongoing discounts throughout the summer months and a large selection of glasses at all price ranges.

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Get ready for the rays: Protect your eyes this summer