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Shield Those Eyes From Array of Light
Sun May 5,12:11 PM ET

By Robert Preidt

HealthScoutNews Reporter

SUNDAY, May 5 (HealthScoutNews) -- When you're heading out to enjoy a day in the sun, think beyond sunscreen if you want to fully protect yourself from sun damage.

A good pair of sunglasses and a hat will ensure that you're not blinded by the light.

Most people are aware of the damage ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause to skin. However, you should know your eyes are also vulnerable.

UV can contribute to age-related changes in the eye and a number of serious eye diseases, says Betsy van Die, media relations director for Prevent Blindness America.

Cataracts, sunburned corneas and cancer of the eyelid are among those UV-related dangers.

"Everybody is at risk, whether it's a child or an adult. Anybody who spends time in the sun and exposes their eyes to the sun without wearing sunglasses or a hat is at risk," van Die says.

UV radiation contains UVA and UVB, and both can harm your eyes.

UVB is the short wavelength radiation that causes sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer. Intense UVB exposure can cause a condition called photokeratitis in your eyes. That's sunburn on your cornea, the clear membrane that covers the front of your eye.

Corneal sunburn is common in people who spend long hours on the beach or ski slopes without proper eye protection. While it's not permanent, it can be extremely painful and result in temporary vision loss, van Die says.

UVA penetrates deep into the eye and may injure the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sight in the center field of vision.

Both kinds of UV rays can contribute to the development of cataracts, which affect more than half of all Americans by the age of 80. Currently, there almost 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older with cataracts.

Too much UV exposure may also contribute to macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss for Americans over the age of 55. Cancer of the eyelids is another threat if you don't shield your eyes, van Die says.

Pterygium is yet another UV-related risk. It's a benign, yet abnormal, growth that develops on the white of the eye and may extend onto the cornea, where it can block vision. It can be removed surgically, but it often recurs.

"It's usually found in fishermen, lifeguards, ski patrollers -- people who spend a lot of time in the sun without protection," van Die says.

Protection from all these threats is a simple as sunglasses and a hat that shades your face. A wide-brimmed hat reduces the amount of UV on your face by about 50 percent, van Die says. Baseball hats aren't as good, she notes.

She offers advice for buying sunglasses. Look for the little oval information sticker on the glasses. Only buy them if the sticker says the sunglasses block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB.

You should know there's no way to guarantee those stickers are legitimate, van Die says. Be wary if the label just says the sunglasses "block harmful UV." You can improve the odds by shopping at a reliable store.

"Don't go to a dollar store, and buy something for a dollar. You get what you pay for," she says.

Wraparound sunglasses offer the best protection because the lenses shield your eyes from all angles. Don't make your eyes victims of fashion by buying into the current trend of sunglasses with tiny lenses.

Don't forget your children need sunglasses with full UV protection. The lenses should be made of polycarbonate, not glass, to protect against eye injury, van Die says.

It's essential that children's sunglasses are comfortable and fit properly, or kids will just take them off and toss them aside.

What to Do:

You can find out more about UV, your eyes, and sunglasses at Prevent Blindness America or the National Consumers League.