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Summer is around the corner and that often means spending more time outside enjoying warmer temps and soaking up the sunshine. As you pack up sunscreen and snacks for an outdoor adventure don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
We asked NorthShore ophthalmologist Paul Phelps, MD, to help us understand some of the key factors of eye health and how best to keep your eyes safe.
Q. Are sunglasses really necessary? A. Sunglasses help protect your eyes from harmful UV light. This can reduce the risk of skin cancer on the eyelids, reduce the risk of developing growths on the eye called pterygium (surfers eye), and even lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, among other benefits.
Q. Can eyes get sunburned?A. Yes. The surface of the eye has a transparent epithelium which can be damaged, just like skin. Photokeratitis occurs from UV damage to the eye. This is a painful condition which is self-limited like a sunburn. Topical antibiotic drops or ointment can be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection. Generally, the symptoms of pain and blurred vision will improve within 3 days.
Q. How does the sun damage our eyes?A. Ultraviolet light can be absorbed by several parts of the eye. Absorption of these rays can damage the proteins in your cells and even cause genetic damage which can lead to growths or even cancer. Damage to the eyelids, conjunctiva (white of the eye), cornea, the lens of the eye (causing cataracts), and retina (leading to macular degeneration) have all been linked to sun damage.
Q. At what age do you typically see cataracts developing?A. Cataracts in the United States start to develop around the age of 60, on average. People who live close to the equator can experience cataracts at much younger ages. In India, the average age of cataracts is closer to 50 years old.
Q. What if I didn’t wear sunglasses when I was younger, is it too late to protect my eyes?A: It is never too late to protect your eyes!
Q. Can you wear sunglasses too often? Is it harmful to wear sunglasses at night or inside?A. If your vision is impaired by your sunglasses, for example wearing them when night driving, then you shouldn’t be wearing them. There is a benefit to wearing sunglasses outside on an overcast day because UV rays still pass through clouds. At night there is not a benefit to wearing sunglasses. Inside you may have some benefit to wearing sunglasses as light passing through windows does still contain some UV light. If sunlight is hitting your eyes there is a benefit of sunglasses.
Q. Any early warning signs of eye damage that should be checked out by a physician? A. Vision loss, pain, or new growths on or around the eye should be checked by a physician. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an annual dilated eye exam over the age of 55. Accumulation of sun damage occurs with age.
Q. What’s the most important thing to look for when purchasing sunglasses?A. Buy them from a trusted vendor like a local optical shop. Polarized lenses can be helpful with preventing glare, which can be especially helpful with light reflecting off a road or body of water.
Q. There’s a lot of chatter lately about Blue Light Blocking Glasses, are they advised or necessary?A. Blue light-blocking glasses have not been proven to have significant benefits the way that sunglasses have been. Some studies have shown that blue-light-blocking glasses may have benefits with sleep and circadian rhythm. Glasses with FL-41 tint have been shown to help patients with photophobia, migraines, and blepharospasm (involuntary eyelid spasms).