Most people know that prolonged and constant exposure to the sun can damage their skin. But not everyone's aware that the same harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can also lead to sunlight-related eye disorders. Worse, this can happen anytime, anywhere – be it playing beach volleyball in July or skiing in December – since UV radiation reaches the eye not only from above but also by reflecting from surfaces such as the snow below.
Medical research has long shown a link between UV exposure and cataracts, as well as other serious eye problems. “Everyone,” says Dr. Stephen Cohen, an optometrist and past president of the Arizona Optometric Association, “especially individuals who spend time in the sun for extended periods, is at risk for eye damage from the sun all-year round.” Compound that finding with the fact that eye damage from prolonged UV exposure builds over time and can never be reversed and you'll begin to see how important protecting one's eyes from UV rays really is.
So I'll just wear sunglasses, you say. Problem solved! Yes and no. Sunglasses alone are not enough. Even those pairs which boast of UV-blocking lenses can only block about 50% of the UV radiation. This is because sunlight also reaches the eye from above, below and around it.
"Sunglasses alone are not enough."
The ideal solution for maximum eye protection would be to wear UV-blocking contact lenses with sunglasses; as they provide added radiation defence by effectively blocking the sunlight which regular sunglasses alone cannot.
Caveat emptor, though, as not all contact lenses offer UV protection. And, among those that do, not all provide similar absorption levels. Stick to well-known and eye care professional-recommended contact lens brands that can block more than 90% of UVA rays and 99 % of UVB rays. And to be really sure, look for lenses that carry the Seal of Acceptance for Ultraviolet Absorbing Contact Lenses from both the American Optometric Association and the World Council of Optometry's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards.
But before you head out the door with your sunglasses and UV-blocking contact lenses, don't forget to top off your look. “Contact lenses,” adds Dr. Cohen, “should always be worn in conjunction with high-quality UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.”
Hey, better safe than sorry, right?
1 McCarty CA, Nanjan MB, Taylor HR. A_ ributable risk estimates for cataract to prioritize medical and public health action. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 42; 2000(12):3720-5.
† Helps protect against transmission of harmful UV radiation to the cornea and into the eye.
* WARNING: UV-absorbing contact lenses are NOT substitutes for protective UV-absorbing eyewear such as UV-absorbing goggles or sunglasses because they do not completely cover the eye and surrounding area. You should continue to use UV-absorbing eyewear as directed.
Long term exposure to UV radiation is one of the risk factors associated with cataracts. Exposure is based on a number of factors such as environmental conditions (altitude, geography, cloud cover) and personal factors (extent and nature of outdoor activities). UV-blocking contact lenses help provide protection against harmful UV radiation. However, clinical studies have not been done to demonstrate that wearing UV-blocking contact lenses reduces the risk of developing cataracts or other eye disorders. Consult your eye care practitioner for more information.