Summer is a time to be outside. Sun and hot weather push us out the door, and we find ourselves at the beach, the lake, hiking in the mountains or grilling in the backyard. All that time in the open air is glorious, but it can also be hard on our eyes. Sunlight, wonderful to bask in, when left to shine on unprotected eyes can take a toll.
The sun not only shines with sunlight, it also emits ultraviolet radiation. Roughly 10 percent of the energy from the sun is transmitted as UV rays. We can’t see these rays with our eyes, but they can still do damage to our eyes.
UV rays come in different forms. Some, like UVC rays, get absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. But others, like UVB radiation, are only partially blocked, and UVA rays are not blocked at all. UVB can burn skin and eyes, and UVA can cause serious eye damage. These are the rays from which we need to protect our eyes. Extended exposure has been linked to cataracts, macular degeneration, and conditions like pingueculae (a yellowish, slightly raised thickening of the conjunctiva on the white part of the eye), pterygia (a pinkish, triangular tissue growth on the cornea) and photokeratitis (a painful eye condition caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to the ultraviolet rays) that can cause temporary vision loss.
As destructive as this radiation can be, however, all it takes to beat the sun and still embrace summer is a good pair of sunglasses. But not all sunglasses are created equal. Many cheap varieties lack UVA and UVB protection, which means that while they might shade your eyes they don’t protect them. To keep your eyes healthy, look for sunglasses rated to provide 100% UV protection, or glasses labeled with UV 400 protection, which means they block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. That covers both UVA and UVB radiation. Expensive sunglasses offer this kind of protection, but you don’t have to break the bank for eye health — plenty of gas station varieties offer 100% UV protection, too.
Glasses alone won’t protect your eyes, however. To do any good, you have to wear them. In the glovebox, in a pants pocket or pushed up on your forehead, they do nothing. The Vision Council reports only one in five Americans wears their sunglasses all the time. If you’re focused on eye health, you’ll be one of those who do.
And parents: These rules don’t just apply to adults. Children spend more time outside than adults. According to the Vision Council, children receive an annual dose of UV roughly three times higher than adults. But only 7.4 percent of American adults report their children wear sunglasses regularly, and 13.4 percent use nothing to protect their children’s eyes from the UV rays.
Everyone should wear sunglasses, regardless of age, regularly. The Vision Council suggests donning a pair anytime you’re outdoors during daylight hours. Sunglasses are not just for style. Proper shades keep you looking good, and seeing well.