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Your Eyes Need Sun Protection, Too

July, 2010

Healthcare Times Feature

Wheaton Eye Clinic

Sunscreen is great at maintaining healthy skin, but what many people may not realize is just how vulnerable the eyes are to sun damage. Overexposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays has been shown to contribute to the development of cataracts as well as  more serious eye cancers. Macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among older Americans, also has been linked to prolonged exposure to the sun.    

The doctors of Wheaton Eye Clinic recommend that anyone spending time outdoors wear sunglasses with UV-A and UV-B protection. Wraparound and fitted styles – the bigger the better—are best at reducing how much sunlight can enter the eyes from the side.  Lens color is not as important to effectiveness as the lens material and coating which determine the UV protection. The best sunglasses are made of either polycarbonate or plastic lenses which block 97-100% UV-A and 100% UV-B rays. 

“And don’t forget a hat,” says Michael Kipp, MD, a Wheaton Eye Clinic pediatric ophthalmologist. A wide brimmed hat, even a baseball cap worn forward, effectively blocks sunlight from reaching eyes. Also keep in mind that UV rays penetrate through clouds and haze and are reflected by water and bright surfaces. So, while sunglasses should be worn at all times outdoors, they are particularly important during mid day, at high altitudes and on the water.

This time of year the increase in outdoor activities always brings increased eye injuries.  “Athletic-related injuries most commonly involve soccer and tennis balls but we also see injuries from baseballs, racquetballs and golf balls,” says Dr. Kipp. “Other eye accidents occur during outside maintenance work when someone is using power tools or even just pounding a nail or using a chisel. We’ve seen eyes stabbed with everything from nails, screwdrivers and other tools, to branches and even broken glass. Paint-ball injuries can be particularly devastating as well.” 

To avoid harmful eye injuries, protective goggles should always be worn when the risk of eye injury is increased. Swimmers, especially contact lens wearers, find that goggles protect the eyes from chemical irritation caused by chlorinated pools. Even in freshwater and saltwater, tiny organisms can get trapped between eyes and lenses. To protect the eyes when swimming, a contact lens wearer should at least wear protective goggles or, for best protection, invest in prescription goggles and leave the contacts out.