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Sunglasses 101: Are your sunglasses really protecting your eyes?

Heading outside to get some much-needed fresh air? You throw on some sunscreen, put on your sunglasses and head on outside to soak up the sun. You were careful to buy the best sunscreen to protect your skin, but did you buy the right sunglasses to protect your eyes?

While your sunglasses may be the most fashionable in the neighborhood, they may not be adequately protecting your eyes. 

How sunlight harms your eyes

Ultraviolet light, specifically UV-A rays and UV-B rays, can cause various issues in the eyes. 

  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. While there are many reasons for a cataract to form in the eye, exposure to ultraviolet light is one of them. Chronic UV light exposure can cause cataracts to develop sooner than they normally would. 
  • Cancer: Just like how you can get skin cancer from sunlight, if you don’t protect your skin, you can get cancer on your eye or eyelid skin from excess exposure to sunlight. 
  • Pterygium: Chronic exposure to sunlight can also cause abnormal growth of cells onto the cornea. Pterygiums usually look like a whitish growth onto the cornea that may require surgery to be removed.
  • Snow blindness: This is akin to getting a sunburn on the eye. Don’t be fooled by the name — the condition can occur from UV light bouncing off surfaces like sand, water, ice and snow. 
  • Macular degeneration: There have been studies linking UV light exposure as one of the risk factors in developing macular degeneration. It is a progressive disease with no cure that affects your central vision. To reduce your risk of developing this disease, protecting your eyes from UV light, eating green leafy vegetables and not smoking are recommended. 

Protecting your eyes from the sun

If you wear sunglasses when you’re outdoors, you are already on the right track. However, make sure your sunglasses have 100% UV protection or are labeled UV400. These sunglasses protect you from the harmful UV-A and UV-B rays. A wraparound style of sunglasses also protects your eyes from sunlight that may get to your eyes from the sides.  

Also, wearing a hat in addition to sunglasses can reduce the amount of sunlight getting to your eyes.

Looking at the sun directly is never recommended, even if you have UV-protecting sunglasses. Looking directly at the sun will cause permanent damage to your retina and your eyesight. If you are trying to view a solar eclipse, you need a very specific solar filter that meets a standard known as ISO 12312-2. 

Don’t forget to protect your kids’ eyes too. They need sunglasses with UV protection and hats as well when they are outside in the sun. Set them up for success by instilling healthy habits now that will protect their eyes for years to come.

So, next time you head out to soak up some sun, don’t forget to add 100% UV blocking sunglasses to protect your vision. 

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More burning questions about your eye health? Learn more about eye care or find an eye doctor near you.

About the author

Sudhir Shenoy, MD
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Sudhir Shenoy, MD, is an ophthalmologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Round Rock 425 University. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Shenoy today.

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Sunglasses 101: Are your sunglasses really protecting your eyes?