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Sunglasses help prevent health problems

Kevin Castle • Jul 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

If you're going out in the sun for a while, you'd better put on more than just sunscreen, according to a local optometrist.

Dr. Eric Smith of the Regional Eye Center said sunglasses should become part of summer wardrobe accessories for every outdoor trip.

Ultraviolet rays from the sun can do damage to more than just your skin, said Smith.

"Cataracts are commonly known to be linked to prolonged ultraviolet light exposure, the most common cause of blindness in the world and loss of vision," said Smith.

"Macular degeneration, which is a degeneration of the center of vision in your retina, has also been linked to long sun exposure. Skin cancers especially around the lower eyelid or a basal cell skin cancer can cause extensive damage, and that has also been connected. Sunglasses should block 99 percent of the ultraviolet A and B rays and really protect the eyes."

According to the American Optometric Association, people most at risk are workers who spend several hours outdoors or those who spend multiple hours in the sun while involved in recreational activities.

The peak risk hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and because of its closeness to the equator, residents in the Southeast are also in the at-risk category for UV ray damage, the AOA says.

"The quality of the optics of the lens correlates to the price you pay and the quality of the frames. But if you're looking at it from a pure health standpoint, relatively inexpensive sunglasses will do the trick for protection from UV rays," said Smith.

He also says that parents need to emphasize the need to their children, from toddlers to teenagers, for wearing sunglasses while in the sun.

"You mainly see adults wearing them, but they are just as important for kids because the diseases we have been talking about build up over a period of years of ultraviolet ray exposure," said Smith.

"It is preventative, and the younger they start using sunglasses, the more benefit of starting the development of these eye conditions. We see the mom and dad out on the beach with their 6-year-old, and the parents are wearing the sunglasses, while it is the child who really needs to be wearing them."

UV protection is what's important, and that can come in a variety of lens colors.

"Amber and yellow lenses are popular right now, especially with what they call driving glasses, and they provide a better contrast, or things stand out a little better. They also work well.

"Other colors like pink or baby blue are just a fashion statement, but if they do provide a level of UV protection, they are just fine to wear. The ability for the sunglasses to protect the retina and other parts of the eye are the job of the glasses. Fashion is secondary."

For outdoor use in the bright sun, the AOA recommends sunglasses that absorb 99 to 100 percent of the full UV spectrum to 400 nanometers (nm).

Additional protection for the retina can be provided by lenses that reduce the transmission of violet/blue light. Such lenses should not be so colored as to affect recognition of traffic signals, the AOA says.

The visible spectrum should be reduced to a comfortable level to eliminate glare and squinting. Individuals who also wear clear prescription eyewear outdoors should consider using lenses that absorb 99 to 100 percent of the UV radiation to 380-400 nm.

People who especially need to wear sunglasses are those who are fair skinned or have a family history of eye conditions, according to Smith.

"If you sunburn easy or have blue eyes, for example, you are susceptible," said Smith. "These are conditions that happen over time, so a regular eye exam is always important to make sure that no gradual changes to the eye area are taking place."

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