Whether you are swimming in a lake in Utah, skiing down a mountain in Colorado, or hiking up the Santa Monica Mountains in California, we take various precautions to protect our skin from the sun. However, while engaging in activities in the sun there is often one area we tend to forget to protect. Our eyes.
The truth is, the sun radiates ultraviolet radiation that can harm and damage your eyes. So, how do we protect them? The easy answer is sunglasses!
The first prehistoric sunglasses model was found within the remains of the Inuit people, an indigenous tribe inhabiting artic regions. Inuits flattened walrus ivory and cut slivers in it to shield their eyes from the sun. The first few historically recorded sunglasses model appeared in ancient China and Rome where the elite used jewels to block sun rays and bad spirits.
However, these early models had no way of providing full range UV blocking abilities. The first revolutionary inventor of sunglasses was James Ayscough, who began experimenting with tinted lenses in the 1700s. He had the intention of helping people who suffered from light sensitivity. Even though he was unaware of the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation at the time and did not cater his tinted spectacles to compensate for the effects, he started a revolution for decades to come that would help people protect their eyes from UV light.
What is UV Light?
Walking into the sunglass or sunscreen department at your local store can be overwhelming. Products can be labeled with words and numbers that can confuse even the brightest of thinkers. But what do these words mean and how do they relate to the amount of protection we receive?
Let’s start with ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is a form of invisible radiation emitted by the sun that can alter a cell’s DNA. UV wavelengths are shorter and of higher energy compared to visible light, which makes the UV wavelengths more dangerous to your eyes and skin.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service (NWS) has developed a UV index to inform the public of the different types of ultraviolet radiation.
UVB radiation stimulates the production of melanin which causes many to burn or tan. UVB rays are partially filtered by the ozone layer but can still reach the earth’s surface. For this reason, professionals encourage the use of sunscreen to protect against potential risks of skin cancer, skin discoloration, and wrinkles.
UVA radiation is closer to visible light rays and has lower energy than UVB rays, but could be extremely harmful to the eyes and skin because the rays penetrate deeper than UVB rays. Because UVA rays pass through the cornea faster and deeper, it has been linked to the development of certain types of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Both UVB and UVA rays have been linked to photokeratitsis, or the sunburn of the eye. UV light can raise your risk of cataracts, age related macular degeneration, and cancer of the eyes or eyelids. It is important to protect your eyes to prevent these diseases.
How do I protect my eyes?
While there are a few tools for preventing UV exposure to the eyes, sunglasses are the most effective. Polarized or 99-100% UV protective sunglasses block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays from the eyes. It is important to note that not all sunglasses are polarized or UV protective. Do not be fooled by the dark tint. The only way to ensure they are protective is to check the label or call the distributer.
The truth is, the larger the sunglasses, the more protection they provide. For this reason, it is important to have glasses cover the complete skin around the eye to protect against early aging and possible cancer.
Ophthalmologist encourage people of all ages to wear sunglasses every day and in every season. Many believe that they are only at risk for UV exposure when it is sunny, but UV radiation penetrates clouds, so it is important to wear sunglasses during every hour of daylight.
Another myth when it comes to eye protection is that only adults need sunglasses. However it is equally important to emphasize the sun protection needs for children’s eyes. Children’s pupils are larger than the average adults, which means the child’s larger pupils allow a greater amount of UV radiation into the eye. Because diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration usually develop over a lifetime and don’t appear until later in life, it is easy to disregard the need for children to protect their eyes. However, prevention is key to a healthy lifestyle later in life.
In the long run, prevention is protection. Preventing UV radiation from penetrating your eyes could reduce the risk for UV linked diseases. It is important to remember that children’s exposure could lead to eye problems down the road, and that sunglass protection is for everyone.