Sunglasses can almost seem like an afterthought these days. You see racks of them everywhere from Walmart to the checkout counter at most convenience stores, where you can pick up a pair for under $10. However, sunglasses really aren’t some disposable accessories that you wear mostly for aesthetic value. Sunglasses can be a key piece of equipment for maintaining your eye health and protecting your eyes for years to come.

The first thing you need to do with any pair of sunglasses you’re considering is to check the level of UVA and UVB protection. If the glasses don’t state their level of UV protection or are less than 99% protection, put them back on the rack. UV rays, the same rays that can cause sunburn and skin cancer, can have devastating impacts on your eyes in the long term.

For example, excessive exposure to UV rays increases a person’s risk of developing cataracts and could contribute to an earlier onset of cataracts. UV rays can also cause damage to the retina, resulting in blurry vision. Also, just as UV rays can cause skin cancer, they can also lead to some rare forms of cancer inside your eye.

In some very rare cases, UV exposure without protection can lead to tissue growing over the eyeball and to a thickening of the tissues around the eye, causing discomfort.

Ophthalmologists warn that the need for sunglasses also goes beyond the summer months. If you’re out in the winter when snow is on the ground, sunglasses help protect you from the UV in the glare off the snow. Also, if you are on any kind of medication that has sun sensitivity as a possible side effect, it’s vital you get UV protection from sunglasses.

The second thing you need to consider with your sunglasses is the physical coverage of the sunglasses. The best option you can get is 100% wraparound-style sunglasses that leave no gaps for unfiltered light to get through to the eye or the tissues surrounding the eye.

Optometrist Fraser Horn, OD, told WebMD the best fit for wraparound glasses is to find a pair that lines up with your brow, doesn’t touch the eyelashes, and fits the overall face well. He noted that beyond the blocking of UV waves, the wraparound glasses also have the added benefit of additional protection from sand, allergens, and other particles in the air that can cause eye irritation and damage.

One of the items that doesn’t really matter for you is the color or darkness of the sunglasses themselves. If the UV rating for the glasses removes 99% or more UVA and UVB rays, then the color is really a matter of preference, for the most part. However, it’s important to note that the darker your glasses, the more likely your pupil is to expand to allow in more light.

So if you decide to risk wearing a pair of sunglasses with less than 99% UV protection, the darker the lenses, the greater the risk of allowing damaging UV rays into the eye.

Parents, it’s also vital that you make your children wear UV-protective sunglasses when they will be outside for extended periods of time. A study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology found in 2014 that fewer than one in three parents made their children wear sunglasses that would protect them from UV rays. Most ophthalmologists tell parents that if you would make your child wear sunscreen for a trip outside, you should have them wear UV-protective sunglasses as well.

If you keep these tips in mind, you should be able to easily find sunglasses at a reasonable price that will give you satisfactory protection from eye damage. However, if you have further questions, the staff of EyeCare 20/20 always stands ready to help you take the steps you need to protect your vision.

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