‘Tis the season to slip on the sunblock, slap on a hat and slide on the sunnies. Sunglasses don’t just look good, they save sight.
Most people choose a certain style of sunglasses to, amongst other things, make a fashion statement. However, there’s nothing that makes a better statement about sunglasses than their level of UV protection.
“UV light can do serious damage to your eyes, short and long term,” said Dr Gerard Sutton of Vision Eye Institute in Sydney. “It’s devastating to lose any amount of vision, but a sight issue from sun damage can be permanent in some cases.”
Vision loss related to UV light exposure is preventable, so it makes sense for people to pay attention to the wellbeing of their eyes when in the sun, just like other parts of their body.
So what can the sun do to your eyes?
“The most common short-term eye disorder is called acute photo keratopathy. This is literally sunburn to your cornea (the surface of the eye) and will cause redness, inflammation and soreness. It may also result in temporary vision loss,” said Dr Sutton.
However, harmful UV light can cause a number of other eye issues, including:
· Cataracts. It’s estimated that 10% of cataract cases* are due to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
· Certain forms of eye cancers. These include tumours on the eyelid, around the eye and on the actual surface of the eye.
· Macular degeneration. Exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of age-related blindness.
· Pterygium. A fleshy growth over the cornea that occurs with ongoing exposure to sun, wind and sand (thus it’s nickname, ‘surfer’s eye’.)
· Pinguecula. A yellowish, thickened spot on the white part of the eye.
“For cataracts and eye tumours, surgery is the only solution. There is no cure for macular degeneration, however there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease. A pterygium or pineguecula may eventually need to be surgically removed,” said Dr Sutton.
Seven tips to buying the perfect sunglasses for summer
Sunlight produces solar radiation, which is harmful to any part of the body. To help Australians protect their eyes this summer, Vision Eye Institute has put together their top tips for buying the right sunnies:
1. Check the classification. Unlike a movie, these are strictly rated P for Protection. Anything sold for eyewear (cosmetic or otherwise) must be labeled according to the AS/NZS 1067:2003 standards. The category summaries are as follows:
- Category 0 and 1 are considered fashion spectacles. 0 provides limited UV protection; while 1 will provide limited sun glare reduction and UV protection.
- Category 2: A medium level of sun glare reduction and good UV protection.
- Category 3: A good level of UV protection and a high level of sun glare reduction.
- Category 4: Special-purpose sunglasses that provide a very high level of sun glare reduction and good UV protection.
2. Be colour wise. Darker lenses may look more fashionable but that has nothing to do with the level of protection. Grey, green, and brown lenses will offer you the best colour perception, which also helps when driving on a sunny day.
3. Bigger is better. They might not be your idea of fashionable, but wrap-around sunglasses are the best for extended outdoor periods, like on a bushwalk. Add further protection by wearing a broad rimmed hat
4. Cost doesn’t count. Obviously you’ll have a budget, but be aware that you can get a $10 pair of glasses with good UV protection and spend $1000 on ones that don’t
5. Don’t get hung up on the term ‘polarised’. They can cut down on glare and haze but not necessarily UV
6. Start young. Just like sunscreen, the sooner you (or your children) wear sunglasses, the more change they have of avoiding eye issues in the future
7. Make them a daily habit. Harmful sun can happen on a cloudy day in winter, not just in summer
A good place to start is the Cancer Council shop – it has an array of protective glasses that are both fashionable and affordable.