By Jody Johnson-Pettit

Whether in summer or winter, wearing sunglasses is the best way for your patients to protect their eyes.

While the sun emits three kinds of ultraviolet radiation – UVA, UVB and UVC – the most damaging is UVA and UVB.

UVB radiation is only partially blocked and can burn the skin and eyes. UVA rays are not filtered and cause the most damage to vision health, according to the World Health Organization.

The number one concern about UV eye exposure is vision loss.

However, The Vision Council reports that 27 per cent of people say they don’t typically wear sunglasses while outside.

This is why reminders and advice from eye care professionals can prove vital.

“Make sure your patients are aware of the risks of overexposure to UV and encourage them to always wear sunglasses when outside to protect their eyes,” says Dr. Justin Bazan, optometrist and medical advisor to The Vision Council.

“It is important to wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation because the damage it can cause is cumulative and irreversible. Remember that if your patients aren’t the best at wearing sunglasses, it’s never too late for them to start.”

According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, an estimated 50 per cent of lifetime exposure to UV rays occurs before age 18. That’s because youth tend to spend more time outdoors, have larger pupils, clearer lenses and few wear sunglasses or hats.

Dr. Kirsten North, Canadian Association of Optometrists’ policy consultant, says wearing sunglasses that block UV rays will decrease the likelihood of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.

“Also, less squinting in the sun means less wrinkles!”

Dr. North says “overexposure to UV rays can cause photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis, essentially a sunburn to the delicate surfaces at the front of the eye. This can be quite painful and cause blurred vision, but generally does not cause permanent damage.

“Long-term overexposure will cause more permanent changes to these tissues, causing pterygia, an overgrowth of skin onto the clear cornea, which can blur vision and/or become inflamed.”

Over 90 per cent of UV rays penetrate through clouds and UV radiation also reflects off surfaces like water, snow, concrete, sand and glass.

The most important factor when choosing sunglasses is the level of UV protection. Since this cannot be seen, you must rely on the labelling of the sunglasses.

“It’s always best to choose a reputable brand from a reputable seller and to make sure there is a sticker or tag indicating the lenses are UVA/UVB protective. Your office is a great place for your patients to start their search, so make sure they know you are available to help,” says Dr. Bazan.

Not all lenses labelled “UV protection” provide safe and optimal levels of protection. Choose quality sunglasses or contacts that block out 99 to 100 per cent of UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75-90 percent of visible light.

After UV protection, “you should choose a tint dark enough to decrease the brightness you will be exposed to and a large or wrapped lens to cover as much of the eye area as possible,” says Dr. North. “Ensure that plastic lenses have a scratch resistant coating and that the lenses have no distortions.”