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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Summer Sun Protection Vital for Eyes

Posted: 06.20.2014

Carol L. Karp, MD
Carol L. Karp, MD

Carol L. Karp, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, says, “Sunglasses may be your most important summer accessory.” The right pair of sunglasses can go a long way in protecting eyes from both long and short term damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light of the sun.

Eye disease, particularly cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading causes of vision loss among older adults are just some of the possible consequences of prolonged exposure to the sun. The sun can also lead to cancers of the eye surface and cancers on the eyelids. Children’s eyes should also be protected with sunglasses and hats. Children’s eyes are more prone to sun damage than adults because their lenses are clearer.

“Picking the right pair of sunglasses is very important,” says Karp. And, she adds, it’s easy if you keep the following tips in mind:

  • Lenses should offer 100 percent of both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) protection. When available, request the lenses to be tested for UV protection. UV protection does not improve with a higher price tag. A higher price may indicate increased durability or fashion design, not greater protection.
  • Sunglasses should cover the entire eye area and wrap all the way around to your temples. Full coverage means the sun’s rays cannot enter from the side. Wraparound styles may also reduce the drying effect of the wind.
  • Lens color can affect the degree of protection and comfort. Colors such as brown improve contrast and depth perception while gray is considered a true color – meaning it does not distort other colors.
  • Polarized lenses are the best choice for overall sun wear protection. It is the only lens that eliminates virtually all glares, which is concentrated reflected light, often blinding and discomforting to the eye. Polarized lenses already contain UV protection.

Karp says that sunglasses should be worn with a wide brimmed hat to further block the sun’s rays. Other important precautions and reminders include:

  • Never look at the sun directly. Even repeatedly staring at the sun reflected on water can damage eyes.
  • UV coating on contact lenses is important, but does not fully protect your eyes. Contact lens wearers should additionally wear sunglasses to block out harmful sunlight.
  • Certain drugs may make your eyes more light sensitive. Be sure to read drug labels and take the proper precautions.

People who work outdoors, have light color skin and/or light colored eyes tend to be at greater risk for sun damage to the eyes. Those individuals should be particularly cautious around sunlight. “People understand the danger of sun exposure on the skin,” Karp says. “Hopefully, we can achieve the same increasing awareness about the potential harm the sun’s rays can mean for the eyes.”