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Protecting Your Eyes from UV Damage

sunglasses2At last, the sun is here – and so is your risk for UV (ultraviolet radiation) damage to your eyes. I’m not just talking about the direct damage that comes from staring at the sun, although I will address that too. It’s possible you’ve heard about the need for full-spectrum UV protection for your eyes already, but I will explain why and offer some advice on making sure you have the right kind of protection.

What does UV do to your eyes?

You may already know you can get immediate, severe damage from staring directly at the sun (including not taking proper precautions when observing an eclipse) – believe it or not, your eyes can actually sunburn too. You can burn your retina from direct sun exposure, and retinal damage is always going to cost you. (I may do a blog on this later.)

But just as day-to-day exposure to the sun without SPF makes your skin age faster and increase your risk of cancer, regardless of whether you sunburn or not, your day-to-day sun exposure without UV protection can harm your eyes long-term. It turns out that ultraviolet light will, over time, increase your risk for the two age-related diseases most responsible for blindness: cataracts and macular degeneration. (Is it just me, or does it seem that pretty much ANY unhealthy habit can increase the risk of those two particular eye diseases?)

Luckily, protecting against UV damage to your eyes is remarkably easy, although there are some important details you might not know about.

The best ways to protect your eyes

Of course you know the easy solution is wearing sunglasses when you’re outdoors. But there is a bit more nuance to that. You need to make sure your lenses say they have 95% to 100% UVA/UVB protection. A lot of lenses may say something about “UV absorbing” or blocking, but those statements aren’t regulated and might mean it only blocks 50% of UV light or less. Some protection is just as bad as – or worse than – none, because when your lenses are dark it might FEEL more comfortable, but your pupils will dilate, allowing more radiation in if there isn’t enough UV-blocking in your lenses. Accept nothing less than 95%-100% UV blocking – and that statement is regulated by the government. Polarization is nice for certain activities in the sun, but it’s not the same as UV protection. Same goes for dark or tinted lenses. BUT if you wear prescription glasses, some lens types (ask an optician about high-index lenses) include UV protection even though they’re clear. At North Cascade Eye Associates, any lens grade above the inexpensive ophthalmic plastic option will come with UV protection. Our optical also includes anti-reflective coating for comfort.

If for some reason you really can’t do sunglasses – or, say, your kids refuse to keep them on – you can still protect your eyes by wearing a hat with a wide enough brim to shade them properly.

Contact North Cascade Eye Associates

If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule an appointment at North Cascade Eye Associates, please contact us today.

In addition, join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to ask your questions about eyes, exams, and our practice. We’d love to hear from you – and I might write a blog to address your questions in the future.