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Sunglasses: Why do we need them?

Q: Why do we need sunglasses?

Sunglasses can help your eyes in two important ways. They enhance the normal light-filtering capabilities of your eyes and they protect against the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays that cause amongst other conditions cataracts and retinal dysfunction. Good sunglasses will reduce glare, filter out 99 to 100 percent of ultraviolet (UV) rays, provide visual protection, be comfortable and not distort colors.

Q: Who is at risk for eye problems caused by UV light?

Everyone-even a child-is at risk. No one is immune to sunlight-related eye problems. People who are at higher risk of developing problems from UV rays include those who spend long hours in the sun because of work or recreation, those who have had cataract surgery and individuals who have certain retinal disorders. Also, some people are more sensitive to UV rays, including those who take certain medications, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers that increase the eye's sensitivity to light.

Q: What types of sunglasses are best?

When your purchase sunglasses, look for a statement on the amount of UV radiation that is blocked from reaching the eye. The rule of thumb is the less UV rays that get through, the better. Experts recommend that to protect your eyes from harmful rays, sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. Since as much as 50 percent of sunglight comes from overhead and gets by many glasses, a brimmed cap or hat should also be worn for maximum protection. Eyewear that wraps around the face also helps minimize the amount of harmful light entering the eyes. Remember behind a dark lens your eyes open up to try and compensate for the reduced amount of lighting, if your sunglasses are therefore not filtering out the harmful UV rays you will increase your exposure and risk of sunlight related eye problems!

Q: Do children need sunglasses?

Yes. When selecting sunglasses for children, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Check the sunglasses periodically to make sure they fit well and are not damaged.
  • Select sunglasses that suit children's active lifestyles. The glasses should be impact resistant (made of CR39 or polycarbonate), should not pop out of the frames, and the frames should be bendable, unbreakable and/or have snap-on temples.
  • The lenses should be large enough to shield the eyes from most angles and to block light that leaks in around the frames.
  • Choose a wide-brimmed hat for your child to maximize protection.

FAQ: UV

Q: What is UV?

UV is ultraviolet radiation, and is sometimes called the "sunburn rays." The sun produces many types of radiation. Some is the light we need for seeing. There is also infrared radiation that is invisible but felt as heat. Ultraviolet radiation is also invisible.

Q: Can UV radiation hurt our eyes?

More and more scientific evidence shows that long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation can damage our eyes. With the thinning of the earth's ozone layer and the growing popularity of outdoor activities, there is a strong possibility that UV-related eye disorders will increase within the next decade.

Ultraviolet radiation may contribute to the development of various eye disorders, such as macular degeneration leading cause of vision loss among older Americans, and cataracts , a major cause of visual impairment and blindness around the world.

Q: Who is at risk?

Everyone-including children-is at risk for eye damage that can lead to vision loss from exposure to UV radiation. Any factor that increases your exposure to sunlight will increase your risk. People whose work or leisure activities involve lengthly exposure to sunlight are at the greatest risk.

Q: How can we protect our eyes?

Using both a brimmed hat or cap and UV-absorbing eyewear can provide protection from sunlight. A wide-brimmed hat or cap will block roughly 50 percent of the UV radiation and reduce the UV radiation that may enter the eyes from above or around glasses. Ultraviolet-absorbing eyewear provides the greatest measure of UV protection. Examine labels carefully to ensure that the lenses absorb at least 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B. Be wary of labels that claim "Provides UV Protection" without specifying exactly what percentage of UV rays the product blocks.


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