Wearing sunglasses in the summer is about more than looking fashionable.
Especially for children, it’s more importantly about protecting your eyes from overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays.
While considerable attention is paid to the need to wear protective sunscreen to ward off potential skin cancer, optometrists are concerned the same focus is not placed on protecting your eyes.
“While most people recognize the importance of sunscreen to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, many are unaware that UV light can cause serious eye damage,” said West Kelowna optometrist Dr. Stephanie Strawn.
Strawn says that damage can range from cataract problems to macular degeneration, cornea burn and eyelid skin cancer.
Cataracts are a condition where a normally clear eye lens becomes cloudy and opaque.
Cornea burn, Strawn said, is recoverable but can be extremely painful while the eyelid skin is so thin it can become susceptible to cancer.
Macular degeneration is a medical condition that usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina.
Strawn says 50 per cent of the damage to your eyesight occurs before people reach 18, which is why optometrists want to make people aware of the destructive potential of UV ray damage.
That means the damage to your eyes at 60 may have largely been initiated when you were a child. “That’s because kids tend to be outside more and their exposure to the sun is greater,” Strawn said.
She explained direct sunlight can be a negative adversary to a person’s long-time eyesight health, as can reflection of the sun off the water in the summer or the snow in the winter.
“I always say if you can afford only one pair of quality sunglasses in your family, buy them for your kid and not for an adult. Kids are in the greatest need of protection,” she said.
That’s due in part to the lens in a child’s eye not having the capability to filter UV rays compared to that of an adult.
She says parents should be mindful of buying a cheap pair of sunglasses for $5 or $10 because of the limitations of the self-advertised UV ray protection.
“On inexpensive eyeglasses, the UV coating is sprayed onto the outside of the lenses, so if you scratch or wash the lenses, it wears down that UV coating over time,” she said.
“The more expensive sunglasses have that coating inside the lens so it doesn’t wear down.”
With the month of June having been Cataract Awareness Month, with an estimated 3.2 million Canadians living with that eye condition, B.C. optometrists have suggested several precautions to protect your vision:
• Avoid sources of UV radiation. Don’t stare directly at the sun and be aware of reflections from snow, water, sand and pavement.
• Protect your peepers. Wear sunglasses that are 100 per cent blocking against both UVA and UVB rays, are close-fitting with a wrap-around style frame to help keep light out.
• Stay informed. Get regular eye exams, and check out the UV Canada smartphone app for up-to-date info on UV radiation in your area.
• Keep out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Keep your children younger than six months of age out of direct sunlight, and ensure children of all ages wear sunglasses or sun hats when outside.