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Protecting Your Eyes from UV Rays

Barbara Berger

An eye exam chart with a close up of an eye in the background.

Benefits of Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun

Simply stated, vision changes as people get older. 94% of adults 55 and older need some vision correction.(1) One reason for this, is our eyes are exposed to the sun often as we age; if unprotected, this could result in eye health issues such as sunburn of the eye, cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer.(2)

Young eyes are more at risk to UV rays than adult eyes because young eyes are less developed and the lenses don’t filter out the harmful rays as well1. Since children spend large quantities of time outside, and because up to 80% of our lifetime exposure to UV rays occurs by age 18(3), it’s crucial to teach children to wear sunglasses for protection.  When children learn good habits young, they will naturally protect their eyes as they grow, reducing the chance of experiencing eye health issues as adults. Good eye protection is important for children not only for health issues, but also because 80% of everything a child learns is acquired through his or her visual system.(2)  Protecting your child’s eyes from the sun will help them reach their full potential.

Protecting Your Eyes While Correcting Vision

It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun and elements while correcting your vision. Many people go without protection when outdoors because they wear (regular) prescription glasses. The eye care industry provides three options to ensure vision and sun protection are provided simultaneously.

Prescription sunglasses solve the issue of having to sacrifice either vision or sun protection. Lens advancements have made it possible to turn every prescription into a sun product, including bifocals and progressives.  There are very few restrictions on lens type for prescription sunglasses; they can be made of all materials including polycarbonate.  A variety of lens types allows for complicated prescriptions and needs to be met, making prescription sunglasses available to most people.

Prescription sunglasses offer a simple transition from indoors to outdoors.

Photochromic lenses, such as those made by Transitions Optical, darken when they are exposed to sunlight and lighten when the wearer returns indoors. Photochromic lenses are useful for people who want the protection and comfort of sunglasses without having to switch eyewear due to changing light conditions. Although convenient and beneficial, photochromic lenses do not fit everyone’s needs.  Because traditional photochromic lenses require UV rays to activate the tint, they do not respond to light through vehicle windshields.3  Therefore, for those where driving is a regular part of the day, other options prove superior and more practical.  Another potential drawback of photochromic lenses is that it may take up to 60 seconds to change from clear eyeglass to dark sunglass lenses.(3)

Some contact lenses are also available with built-in protection against ultraviolet rays. These contact lenses absorb the rays by reducing the amount of radiation that reaches the eye.  The FDA requires that these contacts, when used for general purposes, must block more than 70% of UVA and 5% of UVB rays.(2)  Because this required coverage is less than what is recommended for complete sun protection, contact lens wearers should also use Plano, or non-prescription, UV-blocking sunglasses while outdoors. Sunglasses also shield the entire eye, which provides better UV protection than contact lenses, which do not cover the cornea.(3) Even though contact lenses have great characteristics, prescription sunglasses are a more practical solution for outdoors than contact lenses.  Contact lenses can be damaged or cause eye infections when exposed to elements such as sand, dirt, wind, water and sun.(3)

Ensuring Proper Sun Protection for your Eyes

Sunglasses offer great protection to the eyes, while maintaining their reputation of being great fashion accessories that allow each individual to show off their personality and style.  Although the look and style of the frame is important to the wearer, there are a number of other important options to consider when selecting the proper protective eyewear. Depending on your vision correction, lifestyle and health needs, certain coatings and lens types offer better sun protection for your eyes.

A UV coating may be applied to lenses to filter out ultraviolet rays.  The sun’s rays affect both the inside and outside of the eye, contributing to serious eye problems like cataracts, macular degeneration and burns on the eye.  To guarantee the best protection, sunglasses should filter out at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.(2)

Anti-reflective coating is a common lens coating that allows light to pass through the lens, cutting down on glare and distracting reflections.  This coating is good for night driving and is also cosmetically appealing because it allows others to see your eyes rather than the light reflection off the lenses.  Applying the coating to the back side only of sunglasses helps reduce the reflections of light that enter from behind and bounce off the lens into the eyes.(3)

Polarization is a common lens add-on that cuts down on glare from the sun. When light reflects off a surface, it commonly moves horizontally instead of spreading in all directions, resulting in a powerful light called glare.  Polarized lenses have a particular filter that blocks this powerful light, reducing glare.(3) These lenses are ideal for driving or outdoor activities, especially water and snow sports, enabling you to see clearer.  When used while driving, polarization can diminish glare from flat surfaces such as the hood of the car or the road’s surface, making driving more safe.(3)

Polycarbonate lenses offer 100 percent UV protection and are up to 10 times more impact-resistant than regular plastic lenses.(3) They are available with or without a prescription, tinted or clear, and are impact resistant, thin and lightweight. Polycarbonate lenses are ideal for kids and those involved in outdoor athletics and activities because they provide protection against both sun and injuries.

In seasons where the sun is not as strong, reflections off snow and pavement can be just as harmful as the summer sun.  Snow can reflect 80% of UV rays, almost doubling the total exposure to solar UV radiation.(3) Reflections off of snow can also cause photokeratitis, commonly known as burn of the eye. Sunglasses are also important on cloudy and overcast days because UV rays are invisible radiation, not visible light, and can penetrate clouds.(3)

Protecting Your Eyes is Important

UV rays are constant so be sure to protect your eyes year round. Contact your eye doctor if you have more questions regarding UV rays and different methods of eye protection. Your eyes will thank you for it!

 

Sources

1.    Jobson

2.    AOA

3.    All About Vision

EyeMed Vision Care is focused on eye health and wellness solutions through comprehensive plans built on a diverse provider network. EyeMed plans save members money on all their eye care needs through a network of thousands of private practitioners and leading optical retailers including LensCrafters®, Pearle Vision®, Sears Optical®, Target OpticalSM and JCPenney® Optical.

EyeMed’s unique approach to vision benefits offers substantial savings to employers and employees. EyeMed’s programs also cover comprehensive eye exams, which not only preserve eyesight but can also detect serious conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease early.

EyeMed is also the sponsor of a OneSightSM Vision Van, which travels the country providing free eye care and eyewear to children in need. The Van will visit 40 cities and help more than 6,000 people this year.

EyeMed Vision Care is dedicated to improving quality of life through better vision.  For nearly two decades, EyeMed has provided flexible, comprehensive vision wellness plans.  Serving more than 140 million members through 5,000+ clients, EyeMed is among today’s leading vision care benefit providers.

As Senior Regional Sales Manager with EyeMed Vision Care, Barbara Berger, MHP works with clients to develop comprehensive vision care plans.  With 10 years serving as a licensed dispensing optician and 15 years of employee benefits sales experience, Barbara has the knowledge and expertise to deliver effective vision wellness programs.

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