While protecting your skin using sunscreen is important, there are other parts of the body – such as your eyes – that should be considered as well.
Every hour spent without eye protection can increase the risk of developing serious eye diseases. It is also important to note that because UV rays are invisible, most people don’t know they are harming their eyes.
“Regardless of the current health of your eyes, being outside on a bright day without eye protection, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when UV rays are at their strongest, may lead to problems with your vision,” said Brad Schimke, OD, an optometrist with Trinity Health. He added that overexposure can result in a common condition known as photokeratitis, which is like a sunburn on the surface of the eye that is not only painful, but could potentially cause permanent damage to the eyes. In addition, UV rays can cause tissue growth on the whites of the eyes, and there is always the danger that skin cancer may develop around the eye(s).
Children are especially vulnerable because they aren’t as likely to wear UV protection as adults do, Dr. Schimke said. Others at risk for UV-related eye damage include people with retinal disorders, patients who have had cataract surgery, and people taking certain medications that make their eyes more sensitive to sunlight, he said.
The lifetime accumulation of harmful UV rays has been linked to cataracts as well as age-related macular degeneration, a disease that can ultimately lead to permanent vision loss. “The more your eyes are exposed to bright sunlight, the more subject they are to irreversible damage. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start protecting your eyes,” Dr. Schimke explained. “One of the best ways, naturally, is to wear sunglasses that filter out at least 98 percent of UV rays.”
Sunglasses obtained from an optician are a good choice because you can be sure that they will block out the appropriate amount of radiation. While there are even contact lenses available that filter out some UV radiation, lens wearers should also use sunglasses, since these contacts don’t block out all harmful rays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers these tips for buying the best sunglasses to protect your eyes:
• Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. Labels can sometimes be confusing. Some indicate sunglasses offer 100 percent protection from UVA/UVB radiation, others offer 100 percent UV 400 protection. Rest assured, both will block 100 percent of the sun’s harmful radiation.
• Doubt the UV protection label? Take your sunglasses to an optical shop or to your optometrist. Most have a UV light meter that can test the UV-blocking ability of sunglasses.
• Buy oversized. The more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes. Consider buying oversized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on UV entering the eye from the side.
• Don’t be fooled by color. While dark lenses may look cool, they do not block more UV rays.
• You don’t need to pass on cheap sunglasses. Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to provide adequate eye protection. Less expensive pairs marked as 100 percent UV-blocking can be just as effective as pricier options.
• Don’t forget the kids. Children are just as susceptible to the sun’s harmful rays as adults. Start them on healthy habits early.
• Consider polarized lenses. Polarization reduces glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. This does not offer more protection from the sun but can make activities like driving or being on the water safer or more enjoyable.
If you are in need to have your eyes checked, Trinity Health provides eye and vision care in three Regional Eyecare locations.
Optometrists Jill Martinson-Redekopp, OD, and Brad Schimke, OD, and ophthalmologists Darren Hill, MD, Evelyne Kindy, MD, Darrell Williams, MD, and Chad Wolsky, MD, are based at 2815 16th St SW, Minot. For appointments or consultations, call 701-852-3937.
Ophthalmologist Mark Raymond, MD, is based at 1321 W Dakota Pkwy, Williston. For appointments or consultations, please call 701-572-7641. Ophthalmologist Robert Dicken, MD, is based at 404 Hwy 2 E, Devils Lake. For appointments or consultations, call 701-662-4085.