DP Eyecare Column: Summer Eye Damage Prevention
Q: My wife and I have the same discussion every summer. I wear my ball cap outside all the time to shade my eyes. I contend this protects my eyes well enough, but she harps at me to wear sunglasses too. I don’t like wearing glasses when I’m working in the yard or playing golf, and think the shade from my hat is enough. Who is right?
A: Each summer brings several high-risk activities for our eyes. Besides the increased risks of injury from using grass trimmers and chain saws and the like, the increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most prevalent risk for our eye health.
It is well known the UV damages our skin and contributes to skin cancer, but many people do not realize the way UV also damages our eyes internally over time. UV is dangerous for the delicate and ultra-thin skin around our eyes, leading to about 11% of all skin cancers right around our eyes. UV also causes our crystalline lens inside our eyes to become cloudy faster, meaning we develop cataracts earlier in life.
Lastly, the critical nerve tissue in the back of our eyes, called our retina, can develop damage we call “macular degeneration”. The macula is the most valuable “real estate” we have in our eyes…..the very tiny and unique tissue that gives us 20/20 vision. Certainly family history of macular disease is critical, but blocking out more UV radiation over your lifetime can be very important in preserving your sharpest vision in your later years. Unlike a lot of medical problems, damage to our retina cannot be repaired or replaced to restore normal vision like before. Keeping your sharp central vision for reading print and seeing faces clearly depends on UV protection. It is purely based on prevention during our lifetime.
So, I hate to tell you, but your wife should keep in “harping” at you, as just wearing a hat is not enough protection from UV radiation.
- Full-spectrum UVA and UVB filtering are essential to block out the “toxic” radiation from the sun…..both direct and reflected.
- Ophthalmic quality, or medical-grade sun lenses, have this protection built into the lens….not sprayed on the surface as many inexpensive versions use.
- Dark is not enough. In fact, dark is not essential at all. The UV blockage can be clear in your lenses.
- Most people also prefer polarized sun lenses, as that feature actually blocks or erases glare on the highway too. Polarized lenses make the safest driving lens for us all.
As we advise our patients, everyone should invest in medical-grade, ophthalmic sunwear….ideally with polarization. And whether you like wearing sunglasses or not, you need to get used to it. Wear your hat if you like, but blocking out UV with full coverage sunwear ( not smaller lens, dress indoor eyewear ) gives your eyes and eyelids the best chance to remain healthy and damage-free as we age.
One last comment, if you have a family member with macular degeneration, or if you have had cataract surgery, you have an even higher risk of retinal damage and need even more protection.
Call Morgantown Eye Associates on 304-381-5353 to schedule an eye exam with our Morgantown optometrist.
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Just in case you missed them, here are some of our previous blog posts :