Safe in the sun: Cover your eyes

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Story by Jamie Lampros
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Jun 10, 2013
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We’ve all heard what can happen to our skin if we don’t protect it from the sun’s harmful rays, but how much do we know about protecting our eyes?

Ultraviolet radiation can damage our eyes, and over time can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration, but according to a report by The Vision Council, nearly half of U.S. adults do not protect their eyes with proper sunglasses.

The report revealed that while a majority of adults report purchasing sunglasses, far fewer actually wear them. In addition, when shopping for sunglasses, most people don’t make UV protection a priority. Only 12 percent of adults ranked UV protection first as a consideration when purchasing sunglasses.

The report also shows more than half of parents do not protect their children’s eyes with sunglasses.

UV rays harm the eye by penetrating the cornea and damaging the internal structures of the eyeball. This can lead to both short- and long-term problems, some of which are permanent, said Russell Purdy, an optometrist at Standard Optical in Layton.

Ultraviolet rays are invisible rays of light broken down as UVA and UVB. Both are responsible for giving us both a suntan and a sunburn, and over time can be responsible for serious vision problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts, photokeratitis, abnormal eye growths and cancer of the eye and surrounding skin, Purdy said.

Macular degeneration destroys sharp, central vision and is a major cause of vision loss. Cataracts, or cloudiness of the lens, can cause blindness in severe cases. Photokeratitis is a sunburn of the cornea. Pterygium is a growth of the pinkish tissue on the white of the eye, which can spread to the cornea and block vision. All can be caused or worsened by UV rays, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sunglasses remain the best defense against UV damage, according to the experts, but you have to exercise caution when shopping for the right pair. Just because they’re “cute” doesn’t mean they’re safe.

“You have to be careful when purchasing sunglasses off the rack because they are not regulated by the FDA,” said Purdy. “So if they say they block out UV rays, they may — and they may not.”

“There are a lot of different coatings for blocking out UV rays,” he said. “There are sunglasses that have the dark tint, but they don’t have the UV protection. Polarized lenses are great at blocking out the reflective light off of roads, cars, wet surfaces and snow, but they aren’t cheap.”

Brandon Falkner, store manager at Lens Crafters in Ogden, said a good pair of polarized sunglasses will cost you anywhere from $100 to $300.

“A good pair of polarized sunglasses will cut the glare bouncing off of surfaces,” he said. “When you buy a pair of sunglasses, you really should be thinking about the health of your eyes and UV protection.”

Falkner said it’s best to purchase sunglasses from a reliable source, like an optical store, rather than a rack at the grocery store. A pair of $10 glasses are just going to have a tint, whereas a $100 pair will have the UV filters.

“Basically, you get what you pay for,” he said. “If you get the right pair of sunglasses, not only do you protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, you can also avoid excessive eye strain and fatigue, which can lead to headaches.

“You can go buy yourself a cheap pair of sunglasses pretty much anywhere. You’ll get the darkness from the tint, but you won’t get the protection you need for your eyes.”

Some of the best brands are Oakley, Ray-Ban and Maui Jim.

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