Throw Some Shade… On Your Eyes!

Colorado is a great place for outdoor activities. From mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking, there is no end of things to do or beautiful scenery to enjoy. Most people know the importance of wearing sunscreen when they’re going to be spending a few hours in the sun, especially after getting a terrible sunburn or two. What many people don’t realize is that just like the UV radiation from the sun can damage our skin, it can also have damaging effects on our eyes. Some of these effects can be fairly immediate, resulting in a condition called photokeratitis. This is a very painful sunburn of the cornea that usually occurs after excessive exposure to UV radiation, such as when at the beach or snow skiing without wearing proper eye protection. Fortunately, photokeratitis, while painful, usually only has short term effects with no permanent vision loss. 
Another condition caused by UV exposure is a pinguecula. Have you ever noticed a friend who had a small yellowish spot on the white part of their eyes? This is likely a pinguecula which is a thickening of the tissue on the front surface of the eye. While pingueculas do not cause vision loss, they do cause increased blood vessel growth on the eye, causing the eyes to continually appear red. They can also cause dryness and irritation as the eyelids are constantly rubbing over this elevated bump on the eye. 
Vision loss from UV radiation typically occurs later in life after many years of of exposure to sunlight. There is evidence that more than half of the damage that will occur to our eyes from the sun actually occurs before age 18! Longterm exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of cataract development as well as macular degeneration. While cataracts can be removed with surgery, the effects of macular degeneration can cause permanent vision loss. 
There is no way to predict how sunlight exposure will affect each individual or how quickly its effects can alter one’s vision. This is why wearing sunglasses is a habit that should begin as early as possible in life. Anytime you will be in the sun, even for a short amount of time, you should wear eye protection! This is even more important on snowy days as the the percentage of UV light entering the eyes increases as it reflects off of the snow. UV radiation also increases as elevation increases, so those who live here in Colorado get much more sun exposure than others living closer to sea level. So while you’re out there skiing or enjoying a good time on the lake, be sure to pack your sunscreen AND your sunglasses!
The American Optometric Association’s guidelines for proper sunwear protection are listed below. 
Sunglasses should: 
  • block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation;
  • screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
  • have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection; and
  • have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition. 

If you participate in potentially eye-hazardous outdoor work or sports, your sunglass lenses should be made from polycarbonate or Trivex® material. These lenses provide the most impact resistance.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, consider wearing wraparound frames for additional protection from the harmful solar radiation.