Even eyes can be sunburned.

You probably know that UV stands for Ultraviolet light, that UV comes from the sun, and that UV can cause damage to your skin; you also probably know that sunscreen helps to protect our skin from UV damage; and you probably intuitively understand that too much UV can damage the eye as well as your skin.

But, do you know how UV can damage your eyes? Do you know how to best prevent that damage from occurring?

UV light can damage the eye at three different levels: the outer layers of the eye, the lens of the eye (about a third of the way into the eye), and the retina (in the back of the eye). Let’s talk about each of those layers a little bit.

You can sunburn the outer layer of the eye just like you can sunburn your skin. Have you heard of “snow blindness?” Snow blindness is pretty much a sunburn of the outer layer of the eye and it occurs when the eye is exposed to too much UV light. UV burns to the eye do not require snow or water, however, reflections off snow or water increase UV exposure and make sun protection even more important.

The lens of the eye can also be damaged by UV light exposure. When too much UV exposure occurs, it can cause premature cataract formation. It is estimated that 20% of cataract formation is related to UV exposure. While cataracts are very common as we get older, and are very treatable, it is best for a person to not accelerate cataract formation.

And finally, the retina. Macular degeneration can be precipitated or accelerated by UV light exposure. Macular degeneration is a devastating vision condition that robs people of their ability to see detail. The risk for macular degeneration damage is increased by cumulative exposure to UV light, therefore exposure to excess UV as a child may contribute to macular degeneration-related vision loss years later.

Unfortunately, a recent study showed that only 31% of Americans protect their eyes with sunglasses while outdoors. This is a problem. Everyone should wear sun protection for their eyes.

Here are some things you should know about sun wear:

  1. Sunglasses need to block close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Sunglasses should also screen somewhere between 75% and 90% of all visible light.
  3. Polarization does a great job of cutting glare around snow, water, or any other reflective surface.
  4. Glass sunglass lenses have great optics, but are heavy and can shatter.
  5. Polycarbonate lenses are shatter-resistant, but are optically inferior lenses (plus they scratch easy).
  6. Trivex is an impact-resistant, scratch-resistant, high quality optical lens material that is great for sunglasses.

How will you know if your sunglasses are giving you the protection you need? How do you know what material they are made from?

This much we can tell you: if you purchase your sunglasses at a gas station, convenience store, off-the-rack at the grocery store, or if you spent less than $60 for them, they probably are not giving you the protection you need.

We recommend sun protection for everyone (even babies and children). Off-the-shelf sunglasses are not giving you or your child adequate protection. Come on in to Jensen Eye Care and ask us to help you find a quality pair of sunglasses that you like. It is true that a good pair of sunglasses will be more expensive than what you pay at the convenience store, but your preventative measures for good eye health is worth it. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses and wear them.

Don’t forget, you also look really cool in sunglasses.