5 Good Reasons To Always Wear Sunglasses
With the sun getting warmer and the pollen count gradually (oh so gradually) diminishing, we all want to get out of the house and enjoy the weather. But before you do that, be sure you’re protecting one of the most vulnerable organs in your body: your eyes. Many people don’t realize that UV radiation, along with other irritants such as wind and small particles, can cause a slew of problems for your baby blues, especially as people age.
Unfortunately, declining eye health is part of the natural progression of aging. For example, needing reading glasses after the age of 40 or so is really common, because having difficulty seeing fine print or objects close-up (called presbyopia, if you want to sound fancy) is something that happens as the tissue and lenses in the eyes get weaker. There is also a higher risk of glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration, along with some types of retinopathy, as you get older. Often one would develop these conditions thanks to genetic predispositions or as a side-effect of another ailment, but they are also problems that can be greatly exacerbated by not protecting the eyes from the elements whenever we can.
Cataracts, or clouding of the lens that affects vision, are the most common cause of treatable blindness. People who suffer from this progressive condition report that it is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. While UV exposure is not the only cause of cataracts, it can hasten their onset by causing the protein in the lens of the eye to clump and thicken as a defense against the barrage of rays.
The central portion of the retina, called the macula, is the back layer inside each eye that records what we see and sends it to the brain. Repeated and prolonged exposure to UV rays has proven to accelerate the damage that typically occurs as we age. Unlike cataracts, which are typically treatable, macular degeneration is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in Americans over the age of 60.
Keratitis, or Corneal Sunburn:
Like every other part of your body, your eyes are susceptible to sunburn, too. Even if you’re not looking directly at the sun (please don’t do that), UV rays can reflect off of snow, sand, water, and other surfaces and cause painful burning of the cornea, the clear surface that admits light and images to the retina.
Once relatively rare, cancers of the tissue surrounding the eyes are increasing, especially among the older population. UV light is associated with skin cancers including squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell carcinomas, and cutaneous melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma can occur not just on the skin, but on the conjunctiva (the gelatinous layer that covers the white of the eye) and invade the cornea and inside of the eye.
Most eyelid skin cancers occur on the lower lid, because it receives the most sun exposure. When diagnosed and treated early, these cancers usually respond well to surgery and follow-up care, but left untreated they can be dangerous, disfiguring, and debilitating.
Pinguecula: This odd-sounding condition is a white or yellow raised area or bump within the conjectiva (which, again, is the clear tissue that covers the white of the eye just outside the iris). Because it is often caused by UV exposure, this condition is particularly common in those who live in very sunny areas.
Pterygium: Also known as “surfer’s eye,” this is a lot like pinguecula but the growth is pink and fleshy. While this condition tends to be pretty benign in and of itself, it can lead to scarring of the cornea, which again can lead to permanent vision loss or distortion.
The good news is that with many of these conditions taking the proper precautions can make a difference. Just like we try to wear SPF lotion whenever we leave the house, it is crucial to wear protection from the sun for our eyes as well. Here’s what experts suggest you do to protect your eyes:
- Wear high-quality sunglasses that fully protect you from UV light—both the UVA and UVB wavelengths. Many sunglasses will have a little sticker indicating that they block a certain percentage of UV rays, so keep an eye out for that. (Pun intended.) And don’t just wear sunglasses when you’re at the beach. They should be worn year-round and even on cloudy days. If you are concerned about how dark things will seem when you’re wearing them, try different colors of lenses, as they will all affect your perception of the surrounding environment differently.
- Shade your eyes with hats made out of solid fabric with at least a three-inch brim. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, hats can block up to half of all UV rays from your eyes and eyelids. Or at least try to stay in the shade whenever possible.
- Be aware of how much time you spend in bright sunlight, particularly around surfaces that create a lot of glare, and try to reduce it if you can. This goes double if you spend any time at high altitudes, as that will increase the intensity of UV rays as well.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF15 or higher. There are many, many, formulas designed specifically for the sensitive area around your eyes, so no excuses!