It generally requires only one painful case of severe sunburn to get the average person to take protective precautions the next time they sign up for some extended fun in the sun. 

But while we tend to be more or less aware of the hazards of excessive short- and long-term sun exposure to our skin from sustaining a blistering burn–accelerating photo-aging and amplifying our risk for malignant melanoma–we often forget that our eyes are no less vulnerable to UV damage than our skin.

Just as UV damage, both acute and cumulative, can wreak havoc on the health of our skin, so too can it pose significant dangers to the health of our eyes and vision.

Excessive UV exposure significantly increases vulnerability to eye diseases, including cataracts, benign but unsightly growths on the eye, and ocular melanoma (eye cancer).

Sun-related eye abnormalities can show up as early as our teens and twenties, especially among those with outdoor lifestyles (skiers, surfers, rock climbers) or professions (farmers, landscapers, construction workers) who fail to use protective eyewear, especially during peak UV periods of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

But it’s not just those who spend unusual amounts of time outside who are at risk, and it’s not just during the summer months that UV radiation is necessarily at its most intense and potentially dangerous. Though UV radiation is generally reduced in autumn and winter, there are a variety of conditions that can make the radiation level just as high as–or significantly higher than–that of a seaside August day.

Whether this magnified UV is a result of light bounced off mirror-like glass-surfaced skyscrapers, or of the functionally blinding reflection of light off of snow (up to a dangerous 85 percent), or of the 5 percent increase in UV radiation that occurs with every 1,000 feet above sea level (at 5,000 feet, the exposure to UV radiation is 20 percent stronger), your eyes (just like your skin) are not necessarily safer in the winter than they are in the summer.

Donning a good pair of sunglasses in bright conditions all year round not only enhances your comfort by cutting down glare, it also shields your eyes from sunburn, decreases eye fatigue, and eases the symptoms of dry eyes by buffering your eyes from wind, blowing snow and airborne debris, and by reducing the evaporation of moisture off the surface of your eyes.   

Be sure to invest only in sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB light and that feature lenses that are polarized and large enough to completely cover your eyes and surrounding skin. Rather than simply attenuating brightness and thus muting color, contrast, and sharpness as non-polarized lenses do, polarized lenses eliminate glare without compromising vivid color, contrast, and sharpness. 

The color of lenses in a pair of sunglasses is also an important factor. Gray lenses  reduce light intensity while preserving normal contrast and color. Yellow or amber lenses boost contrast and are a superior choice for conditions where light is so bright as to “white out” objects. Brown lenses bump up contrast and are well suited to high altitude conditions or sports (backpacking, mountaineering, and so forth).

When it comes to UV damage to your eyes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Affording your eyes the same protection you give your skin pays both short- and long-term dividends to both your appearance and your health and helps ensure you’ll be able to safely enjoy the sun today without paying for it tomorrow.

At Eyecare 20/20, we can help you with any and all of your eye care needs, including prescription sunglasses, dry-eye treatment, permanent vision correction, cataract surgery, or anything else you might be interested in! Reach out to us today, and we’ll happily help you see the world more clearly and comfortably every season of the year!

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