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Sunglasses for all seasons

Whether you are headed to the beach, to the ski slopes or down the block to the grocery store, don't forget your sunglasses.

In addition to causing sunburns, wrinkles and skin cancer, too much sunlight can also damage your eyes. The damage comes from two types of ultraviolet (UV) light—UVA and UVB.

Frequent exposure to these UV rays can cause eye problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Optometric Association (AOA).

You can protect your eyes from UV damage by wearing sunglasses that block UV light, says the AAO.

Choose wisely

The important part of choosing sunglasses is reading the label. The sunglasses you choose should block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. Lenses that provide UV absorption up to 400nm are the same as lenses that block 100 percent of UV light. If you are outside often, it is important to get sunglasses that absorb or block all UVA and UVB, according to the AAO.

It doesn't matter if the lenses are glass or plastic, since it is how the lenses are made that provides the UV protection. In addition, how dark the lenses are or the color of the lenses has nothing to do with the lenses' ability to block UV light, says the AAO.

Other protective options for sunglasses include:

  • Polarized lenses. These sunglasses reduce glare but don't necessarily provide UV protection. If you choose polarized lenses, read the label to make sure your sunglasses also block UV light.
  • Close-fitting or wraparound sunglasses. These provide the most protection from UV light, as they keep the sun's rays from coming in around the edges of the glasses.
Some sunglasses claim to block infrared light. However, there is no evidence that infrared rays cause eye damage, so this isn't a necessary feature, according to the AAO.

People who wear contacts should also wear sunglasses since UV-absorbing contacts may not protect against eye damage.

Take extra care

Certain conditions and medications can increase your risk of eye damage from UV light. The AAO advises that you take extra precautions if you:

  • Have fair skin or light eyes.
  • Have had cataract surgery. This surgery replaces the eye's natural lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). Newer IOLs provide some UV protection, but older ones do not.
  • Take medications that make your skin sensitive to sunlight. They also make the eyes more sensitive to UV rays. Ask your doctor if the medications you take will make you sensitive to light and what precautions you should take.
  • Use tanning beds or lamps. It's best not to use these devices at all, because they increase your risk for skin cancer. But if you do use them, also use eye protection designed for use with tanning beds. Regular sunglasses won't protect your eyes from such an intense light source.

Don't forget

It is important to protect your eyes from the sun year-round. UV rays are lowest in winter but can still cause damage, warns the AAO. Be especially careful near snow, as the reflected light is very intense and can burn the cornea.

Damage from the sun begins in childhood, so encourage your children to wear sunglasses whenever they go outdoors.

reviewed 1/24/2019

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