The long wait for summer is over. While enjoying yourself in the sun as often as possible, however, make plans to protect yourself. Especially your eyes.
Luckily, it is easy to do. Simply wear sunglasses every time you go outdoors.
Because the sun and our eyes are faithful companions, it may be easy to overlook the fact that one needs shielding from the other. It takes only one stretch of an unprotected hour on the water, say, to learn the lesson. It will be difficult to see when you return inside. And while the condition is temporary and doesn’t result in lasting harm, it is an indication of the power of the sun and its effect on our eyes.
As many of us were taught in school, light comes in various forms. Visible light allows us to see the world. Ultraviolet light is invisible to us without the help of machines. Both can cause damage, and the proper sunglasses can protect us from each type.
The Beauty and Danger of Visible Light
We won’t criticize visible light here – we need it to see the wonders of the world. You know from squinting through the glare, however, that you can get too much of a good thing. Evidence indicates that excessive exposure over several years can lead to macular degeneration, which affects more than 10 million people in the U.S. and is the leading cause of vision loss. As macular.org states: Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the retina, the back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve to the brain. The retina is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye.
Macular degeneration might happen to anyone as we age. Scientists believe that wearing the right sunglasses can help prevent or at least slow it.
What We Can’t See Can Still Hurt Us
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes skin to tan and burn, and over time also can damage our eyes. There are three types of UV light, and two of them affect the eye.
UV-B rays are absorbed by the outer layer on the front of eye, called the cornea, and they may be a cause of cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye.
People who routinely work outside sometimes develop a growth called pterygium on the white of the eye, which eventually can move over the cornea and block vision.
A condition called photokeratitis, or corneal sunburn, can occur after long hours at the beach or while boating. It causes short-term vision loss and is painful.
(The earth’s atmosphere filters out the third form of UV radiation, called UVC, so don’t worry about it.)
Although UV-A light has not been linked to specific eye diseases, it is thought to cause skin cancer and aging of the skin. The American Optometric Association says that “There are good scientific reasons to be concerned that UV absorption by the eye may contribute to age-related changes in the eye and a number of serious eye diseases,” adding, “Everyone is at risk. No one is immune to sunlight-related eye disorders. Every person in every ethnic group in developed and developing nations alike is susceptible to ocular damage from UV radiation that can lead to impaired vision.”
You Can Protect Your Family’s Eyes
Sunglasses with the proper lenses can shield everyone’s eyes from harmful effects of the sun.
How do you know whether your sunglasses work?
Read the labels
Visit your optician
While shopping at the beach trinket shop, you may be tempted to buy a handful of colorful sunglasses for all the kids in your group, or to replace the pair you accidently crushed underfoot with a throw-away model.
Before you head to the cash register, read the labeling that should be attached to every pair. Ideally it will say that these sunglasses block at least 75% of visible light and 100% of UV. It might say "UV absorption up to 400nm," which is the same as 100% protection.
Look for sunglasses that have exactly the same color in each lens. To check for distortion, hold the glasses at arm’s length and view a straight line, such as a door jamb, as you move the glasses from side to side. The line should be straight in every view.
When you are shopping for sunglasses in a professional setting, such as your optician’s office, ask about impact resistance and scratch resistance. You might decide on more than one pair, too. A wrap-around design that keeps out the maximum sunlight is good for the beach or gardening. For driving, a gray tint is best at differentiating colors.
We Love Summer, But …
UV rays pass through clouds, so in summer you are exposed to the sun’s rays whether the skies are cloudy or blue. Next time you head outdoors, bring your sunglasses, and make sure everyone in the family has a pair. Young eyes especially need protection.
For more information and answers to your questions, as well as a large collection of frames, visit the Optical Shop of Westport at 420 Post Road West, or call or email at 203-222-7870; 413-384-6492 (after hours); and email@example.com.