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Protecting Your Eyes from UV Damage

Are you completely protected from harmful UV rays?

Believe it or not, UV damage is a threat year-round, not just on sunny days. Yes, even here in the rainy, cloudy Pacific Northwest–UV radiation is always a danger to the eyes and skin.

It’s possible you’ve heard about the need for full-spectrum UV protection for your eyes already, but we 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 a cause of blindness.

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. It also increases your risk of getting a corneal condition called pterygium.

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 Cascadia Eye, any lens grade above the inexpensive ophthalmic plastic option will come with UV protection. Our optical also includes anti-reflective coating for comfort. And if you aren’t near any of our Skagit, Island, Whatcom, or North Snohomish optical shops, be sure to ask your optician for complete UV400 protection in your sunglasses AND your clear everyday glasses.

And don’t forget your kids

It’s crucial that you protect your kids as well. Shaz says, “A child’s retina is even more exposed to UV because they have larger pupils and a clear crystalline lens, allowing higher transmission of harmful UV rays. 50% of eye damage from UV radiation occurs before the age of 18. Yet according to The Vision Council’s VisionWatch, only 7.6% of parents report that their children always wear sunglasses outdoors. This makes it even more critical to have complete protection in their clear general-purpose eyewear.”

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. But full-spectrum UV protection is the safest and best option.

Contact Cascadia Eye

If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule an appointment at one of our six locations, please contact us today.
In addition, join us on Facebook 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.

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