by Dr. Melanie Langford
When a patient sits in my exam chair, one of the most important questions I ask them is whether or not they have a quality pair of sunglasses. By “quality” I don’t mean expensive designer sunglasses. My number one priority is to ensure my patients are well protected.
Every single day, we are exposed to harmful UV rays, specifically UVA and UVB rays. This exposure happens even on cloudy or overcast days. Damage to your eyes from UVA and UVB is cumulative over your lifetime and contributes to serious age related conditions including skin cancer, premature wrinkling of the skin, and various eye diseases. Once the damage has been done it cannot be reversed, so it is very important to start wearing sunglasses early.
Equally important is to make sure parents know that children need just as much protection from the sun. A recent study has shown that children take in 3x more UV exposure than adults, and up to 80% of their lifetime exposure occurs by the time they are 20. Short term exposure can cause your eyes to become bloodshot and sensitive to light but long term exposure can cause cancer of the eyelid, abnormal growths on the eye, macular degeneration, and cataracts.
It might seem obvious that people with the highest risk of sun damage are those that spend a lot of time outdoors due to their field of work or for recreation. It may not be obvious, that high risk patients also include people on certain medications such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, and birth control, and those that have had any refractive or cataract surgery.
When it comes to purchasing sunglasses, look for lenses that are gray or brown and are free from distortions. This will allow for proper color recognition and sharper vision all around. They should also have 99-100% UV protection and screen out 75-90% visible light.
The larger the lens, the more area is protected. Wrap-around frames give great protection, however keep in mind that certain higher prescription lenses may not do well with a curved lens. Certain contact lenses include UV protection. These do not replace sunglasses, but you can pair them with non-prescription sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to give you the most protection. Polarized lenses are best at blocking glare off of horizontal surfaces like pavement/car windshields while driving, water while at the beach, or reflections off of the snow while skiing or snowboarding.
How do you, the consumer, know if the sunglass satisfies all requirements? You don’t. My best advice is to purchase your sunglasses from a reputable source and from someone who you trust to be knowledgeable in this area.
Dr. Melanie Langford practices full scope optometry at Family Vision Care and she enjoys working with patients of all ages. She is licensed in the treatment and management of ocular disease with therapeutic pharmaceutical agents, primary open angle glaucoma, and lacrimal irrigation and dilation.
Family Vision Care
4310 Genesee Avenue
San Diego, CA 92117
Reference: The American Optometric Association: www.aoa.org