The sun is already pounding down, and summer will soon be here. This means that May is the perfect time of year for UV Awareness Month. We all know not to stare directly into the sun (at least we hope you do!), but that's not enough when it comes to protecting the health of your eyes.
The sun's danger comes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are three bands of UV light: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays are absorbed by the upper atmosphere and do not reach the earth's surface, but UVA and UVB can wreak havoc on your health. UV radiation is responsible for skin cancers like melanoma, and it also causes damage to the eyes in the form of cataracts (a clouding of the lens of the eye), macular degeneration (deterioration of light-sensitive cells, causing irreversible vision loss), and both cancerous and benign growths.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends wearing 99 percent and above UV-absorbent sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat whenever you're in the sun for long periods of time. In particular:
- At all times during the summer, since the level of UV radiation is at least three times higher than in winter
- At the beach or in the water
- Gardening or landscaping
- When participating in winter sports, especially at high altitudes
- When using medications that can cause photosensitivity
Most stores this time of year have racks and racks of sunglasses on display, but be careful when picking your pair - no all sunglasses are created equal. If possible, look for lenses that have 100% protection from both UVA and UVB rays. 98 percent and 99 percent are acceptable. Don't buy sunglasses that say they "block UV radiation" unless the label includes a percentage of 98 or higher.
Also, lenses should be free of distortions of imperfections. To test this, hold them at arm's length and look through the glasses while moving them slowly over a square pattern. If the lines wiggle, or if the color of the lens isn't consistent throughout, don't buy them.
Brown or grey tints are best for keeping the light out. However, even clear lenses can have UV coating. Avoid blue tints as they cause glare.
If you will be spending a lot of time driving or on the water consider getting glasses with polarized lenses. They block the light reflecting from the water or the highway, reducing glare. However, polarized sunglasses don't necessarily include UV protection, so make sure to check for both.
Picking the right sunglasses is only half the battle though—you have to know when to wear them.
- Remember to wear your sunglasses while driving—the glass in car windows doesn't fully protect from the sun's UV rays.
- Artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds, and lasers also contain UV rays. Always wear protective eyewear around such devices.
- UV rays are stronger at higher altitudes, even though the weather might feel cooler.
- Don't count on clouds to protect you—wear sunglasses and sunscreen even on overcast days.