This month’s post about the importance of wearing sunglasses is written by a guest blogger from the vision insurance professionals at VSP and approved by Dr. Dave and Dr. Cheryl.
Beyond being one of summer’s most trendy accessories, sunglasses are easily the most practical. You may be under the impression that sunglasses are just a fashionable way to keep the sun out of your eyes but they are actually doing much more than just keeping you from squinting or improving your fashion sense.
The following are characteristics of your summer eye wear that you may have never considered your sunglasses capable of.
Prevent eyelid cancer
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, eyelid cancer accounts for about 5% to 10% of all kinds of skin cancer. The two most common forms of eyelid cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are found predominantly in people who have had extensive exposure to the sun throughout their lives.
When not diagnosed and treated right away, eyelid cancer can spread rapidly and damage vision as well as disfigure the face. Another form of cancer that can affect the eyelids, melanoma, can be deadly if it’s allowed to spread.
Frequent sunburns and sun exposure has been linked to skin cancer. Since the eyelids and skin surrounding the eyes are so thin and sensitive, they are much more susceptible to damage from the sun.
Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV protection is an effective way to limit your eye’s exposure to the harmful rays of the sun, especially on bright days or around water and snow, which reflect sunlight making it more intense.
Protect the retina
The retina, where images are formed and sent to the brain, can deteriorate over time, causing macular degeneration, which leads to vision loss. Macular degeneration (the macula is the area of the retina with the sharpest focus) is common in the U.S. among people 60 and older, and some studies have pointed to UV exposure as a possible link.
More research is needed, but in the meantime, we do know that sunglasses can help protect your retina. This means sunglasses are at least one way of prevention against macular degeneration.
Stop cataracts from forming
UV rays are a contributor to the forming of cataracts, which is clouding on the crystalline lens. Cataracts often lead to blindness, since the crystalline lens is responsible for focusing your eyes. However, cataracts can be treated with surgery (over one million procedures are performed in the U.S. every year to remove cataracts).
Protect the cornea from sunburn
Another area of the eye susceptible to damage from UV rays is the cornea, which is the clear, refracting membrane outside the retina. The cornea can literally be burned by UV light, leading to corneal sunburn, or keratitis.
A good pair of sunglasses with UV protection helps prevent corneal sunburn, and it’s especially important to wear eye protection when using a tanning machine or while skiing.
Protect the whites of your eyes
The conjunctiva is the thin membrane that covers the white area of your eyes, and excessive exposure to the sun can cause it to become inflamed and irritated. As it gets more inflamed, the conjunctiva can swell over your cornea, partially blocking your vision (a condition referred to as pterygium or “surfer’s eye”). In extreme cases, surgery is required to remove pterygium.
Not all sunglasses are created equal
Since virtually all areas of the eye can be damaged by overexposure to sunlight, sunglasses can go a long way to ensure long-lasting eye health. Choosing the right kind of sunglasses is important, and some brands may offer little or no protection.
When shopping for a pair of sunglasses, look for a pair with a label that clearly states that they offer at least 99-100% UV protection. Wider lenses and wrap-around styles will also provide more protection, simply because they cover your eyes from more angles.
While prevention is critical, all of the eye conditions described above can be detected during a routine eye exam. Getting your eyes checked regularly is crucial to maintaining normal eye health.
So while it’s important to shield your eyes from the potentially damaging effects of the sun, there’s no reason you can’t do it in style with your favorite pair of sunglasses.