Sunglasses: They’re not just about looking cool
New research conducted in Boston and Israel suggests wearing sunglasses could be a key way to prevent a harmful eye condition that increases the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.
And according to study leader Dr. Louis Pasquale, eye protection is most important for those under 25, because that is when the most damage is done.
The study, published earlier this month in JAMA Ophthalmology, found that rates of a condition called exfoliation syndrome vary with latitude and ethnicity. Those of European descent who live far from the equator are at higher risk. In Iceland, for example, 20 percent of people develop a form of exfoliation syndrome by the time they’re 80 compared to about 4 percent of Americans, Pasquale, the director of the glaucoma service at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, told the Boston Globe.
But those in the Chicago area face a higher risk than those in the Southern United States.
“The sun’s rays are more damaging further north,” Pasquale explained, “since the sun sits lower in the sky and has more opportunity to bounce off surfaces into the eye.”
People who work outdoors surrounded by highly reflective snow or water have nearly four times the risk of developing pseudoexfoliation syndrome, the study found. The finding was based on 118 patients with the syndrome at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and 67 patients in Israel. Researchers compared medical records of those patients to records of healthy counterparts the same age.
Pseudoexfoliation syndrome occurs when protein-like material builds up on the lens of the eye and ultimately clogs the eye’s drainage system, raising pressure in the eye. This greatly increases the likelihood of glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness. It also increases the risk of cataracts and complicates their surgical removal.
The good news is that sunglasses appear to reduce the risk of developing pseudoexfoliation syndrome. The U.S. study participants who regularly wore sunglasses were 2 percent less likely to develop the condition, leading physicians to recommend that, like sunscreen, sunglasses should be worn whenever you’re outdoors, year round.
“Just as we’ve learned that you can get a sunburn on an overcast, hazy day, you’re exposing your eyes to damaging UV rays on these days, too,” says Dr. Emily Velotta, an ophthalmologist aligned with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
Sunglasses are especially important for children, adds Dr. Velotta, who practices in Mundelein, Ill.
“UV eye damage is cumulative over a lifetime,” Dr. Velotta says, “so it’s important to make wearing sunglasses a habit early in life. What’s more, children’s eyes are especially vulnerable because they’re still developing.”
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, not all sunglasses are created equal. Make sure your sunglasses block 99 percent of UV rays and 90 percent of infrared rays.
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