Protect your only pair from the sun

Protect your only pair from the sun

The spring and summer sun brings plenty of fun and outdoor activities. But all that sunlight exposes your eyes to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which has been linked to a number of eye conditions, including cataracts and early onset age-related macular degeneration.

You probably don’t want to avoid the sun completely, but it’s easy to protect your eyes with the right sunglasses.

Dr. William Seng Tan, a family medicine physician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill., offers some basic tips to help you pick the right sunglasses to protect the only eyes you have.

Go 100 Percent

“The single most important thing to look for is a sticker or tag indicating that they block 100 percent, or very close to that, of UV rays,” Dr. Tan says.

According to the American Cancer Society, labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” mean the glasses block at least 99 percent of UV rays. Those labeled “cosmetic” block about 70 percent of UV rays. Dr. Tan says you shouldn’t assume the sunglasses provide any UV protection if they have no label.

You don’t have to break the bank

“Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to protect you,” Dr. Tan says. “Less expensive pairs can be just as effective as pricier options, as long as the meet the ANSI requirements or the 400 nm absorption threshold.”

Darker doesn’t mean better

“Darker glasses that don’t block all, or nearly all, UV light actually allow more of these higher-energy waves into the eye,” Dr. Tan says. “These non-protective dark glasses create an artificial low-light environment that cause your pupils to open up more, allowing more UV radiation in, and potentially leading to greater danger and damage.”

Color is not a factor

“You can’t judge a pair of sunglasses by its color for eye protection purposes,” says Dr. Tan. “Shades and tints of sunglass lenses don’t reflect UV blocking ability, so remember to check the label for the most important information.”

According to Dr. Tan, lens tints filter light in different ways, and some tints do a better job at blocking light than others. Some tints actually enhance colors, while others distort them.

Don’t be mesmerized by “polarized”

“Polarization” means a special chemical has been added to the lens that can reduce glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement, Dr. Tan says. But polarization does not offer more protection from the sun.

“Don’t mistake polarization with UV protection, as they are two very different things,” he says. “Polarization won’t help preserve eye health, but it can make activities like driving or being on the water safer or more enjoyable.”

Dr. Tan recommends that if you aren’t sure what kind of sunglasses to buy or think you may be at high risk for eye disease, you should check with an ophthalmologist. To find one in Illinois, click here. To find one in Wisconsin, click here.

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About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.