Sunglasses- not just a style choice, but a vision-saving device

Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo on Flickr

Not just a style choice

What do you think of when you see someone in sunglasses? Among the most common responses I hear from my patients when I ask them about sunglasses is “fashion.” And while your Michael Kors sunglasses can be an excellent fashion accessory, they can also be a tool well suited to add to your arsenal of eye protection.

Sunglasses are protection

The next question I hear when discussing sunglasses with my patients is “protection from what?” Sunglasses can help provide protection from damaging UV rays of the sun, serve as a barrier for ocular allergens to help reduce allergic conjunctivitis in patients who have eye allergies, and protect the surface of your eyes if you are a patient with tear film insufficiency or dry eyes.

Watch out for UV rays

Damaging Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause indirect DNA damage and contribute to skin cancer. It can also cause changes to the health and structure of your eyes. UV ray exposure has unfortunately been linked with a higher incidence of macular degeneration, certain forms of cataracts, and pterygiums (those fleshy growths on the white of the eye that can grow to cover your pupil).

UV radiation from the sun comes in three forms- A, B and C. UV C is the most mutagenic, which means it is the most damaging of the three. Fortunately, our planet’s ozone layer absorbs most of this type of radiation so that it never makes it down to us. UV B is the form of radiation from the sun that causes sunburns, and sunscreens that are labelled with SPF numbers describe how well they block UV B. UV A unfortunately also damages the DNA in your skin and eyes. New full-spectrum sunscreens and sunblocks can help protect your skin from both UV A and UV B radiation. Similar to a full-spectrum sunblock, sunglasses with UV A and UV B protection can help prevent your eyes from exposure to 99.9% of UV A and UV B rays. 

Allergy protection

For patients who suffer from seasonal allergies, especially contact lens wearers, wearing a large pair of sunglasses can be an ideal barrier for potential ocular allergens. Whether they are sport sunglasses or the larger fashion sunglasses, having larger lenses and a bit of face wrap, or curves to fit the front of your face, allow sunglasses to block a lot of the pollens, dust and spores that can trigger eye allergies.

Similarly, for patients who suffer from tear film insufficiency or dry eye, having a large barrier in front of the eyes to protect from the elements encountered outdoors can make treatment and management of this eye disease much easier. 

Sunglasses are always going to be seen as a fashion accessory, but try not to forget how beneficial they can be for eye protection. And remember – there is nothing wrong with looking good while taking care of your eyes! 

~Ranjeet S. Bajwa, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://eyehelp.org
http://www.coavision.org

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