For many people, it’s a lesson that goes back to childhood: if you are spending time in the sun, use sunscreen.
Similar advice can also be given to protect your eyes.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has issued an advisory on the damage that sun exposure can cause to the eyes — including diseases such as cataracts.
“I certainly think that the eyes need to be protected every bit as much as the skin from sun exposure,” Dr. Randy McLaughlin, an ophthalmologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
With summer in full swing — and record-setting heatwaves across the United States — it’s more important than ever to protect the eyes with a good pair of sunglasses.
Reduce the risk of cataracts
The biggest risk of sun exposure to the eyes is the development of cataracts — a clouding of the lens in the eye that reduces vision.
Cataracts are a common ailment, particularly as people age. But wearing sunglasses can help limit the progression of an ailment that can ultimately lead to blindness.
Ultraviolet (UV) exposure can also increase the risk of macular degeneration, growths on the eye, and a rare form of eye cancer, according to the AAO advisory.
Wearing sunglasses is associated with summertime fun in the sun, but the AAO cautions that the risk of UV rays isn’t limited to one season.
The organization says that anyone serious about protecting their eyes should wear sunglasses in the spring, winter, and fall as well.
It’s not about designer labels
Anyone shopping for a new pair of shades will find themselves presented with a wide range of options — and prices.
The cost for a new pair ranges anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.
While higher-end sunglasses may have a higher build quality, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the only ones that can effectively block UV rays.
“I don’t think that the ‘more you spend, the better’ is necessarily going to protect,” explains McLaughlin. “I think a lot of the cost in sunglasses might be the frame or the designer label that’s on it.”
“So, what I’m saying is that moderately priced sunglasses might be every bit as good as expensive ones,” McLaughlin added. “Oakley sunglasses have lots and lots of patents in their lenses that minimize aberrations and distortions, and they’re certainly of high optical quality, but so are sunglasses like Maui Jim or anything like that. You might be a little bit leery of the $5.00 sunglasses you get at the gas station, but even those might provide some ultraviolet protection.”
When shopping for sunglasses, the main focus, for anyone concerned about eye protection, is the UV rating — not the price tag. It’s also important to note that darker lenses do not automatically translate into better UV protection.
McLaughlin recommends seeking shades that have UV protection of at least 400.
Protection around the eyes
Another factor to consider is that sunglasses help protect the skin around the eyes — areas where it can be hard to apply sunscreen.
The AAO advisory recommends buying oversized shades to help protect these areas as well as to cut down on UV rays entering from the sides.
For those who want to make sure their shades offer adequate UV protection, the best option is to seek out a UV light meter to test how well the lenses block out UV rays. These meters are commonly found at optical shops.
Wearers of contact lenses can easily wear a pair of nonprescription sunglasses to help protect their eyes. But it’s also worth noting that many brands of contact lenses also offer UV protection.
“Most rigid gas permeable hard lenses have an ultraviolet filter, which is helpful in protecting from UV rays,” says McLaughlin.
“Good sunglasses will certainly help protect the eyes in terms of reducing UV exposure,” concludes McLaughlin. “This will help protect the eyes in terms of lowering the progression of cataracts. I think if we all live long enough, we’re all going to develop cataracts — but this can slow the progression. Wearing sunglasses can be beneficial in delaying the risk of macular degeneration. Furthermore, it certainly protects the skin of the eyelids or around the eyes, areas that might be susceptible to skin cancer. Finally, it’s just protection of the eye itself.”