June 06, 2019
Sunglasses have been a staple for countless fashion icons, from Audrey Hepburn to Kurt Cobain—but a cool pair of shades are more than just the finishing touch to a great outfit. The eyes are an extremely vulnerable part of our bodies and should be protected as such. So, when summer comes around and nature’s intensity increases, our eyes need extra care. While looking like a movie star is an added perk, wearing sunglasses to prevent long-term eye damage is the real benefit. Here are the primary reasons why you should never leave home without your sunglasses.
The most important reason to wear sunglasses is to minimize the eye’s exposure to dangerous UV rays. There are multiple types of UV-rays, each with their own distinct risks. UVA rays can damage your central vision, injuring the back part of the retina called the macula. UVB rays, mostly absorbed by the cornea, are just as dangerous. Different factors impact the strength to which your eyes are exposed to these UV-rays, including geographic location, altitude, and time of day. If you live closer to the equator, at a higher altitude, or spend a lot of time outside from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (when the sun’s rays are strongest), it’s especially important to shield your eyes.
Chronic eye exposure to these UV rays comes with alarming consequences. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, prolonged contact with the sun’s UV rays is one of the leading contributors to cataracts. It can also worsen glaucoma—an eye condition that sometimes results in blindness. Certain types of UV radiation can also speed up macular degeneration, an incurable eye condition causing deterioration of the retina.
The sun isn’t the only force of nature that causes eye damage. Whether it’s a neighborhood barbecue or a beach vacation, many of summer’s staple activities take place outside —exposing the eyes to all sorts of unwanted irritants. That unpleasant and all too common gust of sandy beach wind can cause serious damage to the eye’s delicate tissue. Sunglasses form a protective barrier between your eyes and those tiny grains of sand, minimizing the likelihood of small foreign particles scratching the cornea. Dirt, pollen, and other small pieces of abrasive matter carried by the wind can also be blocked by quality sunglasses.
The same goes for smoke. The old adage “smoke follows beauty” does not, unfortunately, protect against smoke’s damage to the eye. Standing near a bonfire or over a grill frequently causes unwanted contact with smoke, which is especially dangerous if the fire isn’t burning clean fuel. Dry summer months can also expose the eyes to smoke on a much larger scale, especially in places like California that are particularly prone to brush and forest fires. In this case, people who already suffer from eye conditions like allergic conjunctivitis and blepharitis are at an increased risk for the burning pain associated with smoke exposure. In fact, an ophthalmologist over 100 miles from the largest wildfire in California history found that “every patient” he saw on one August day in 2018 “without exception” experienced stinging, burning, and red eyes. Ophthalmologists recommend close-fitting sunglasses to stop the stream of smoky air from contacting the eye.
So, the next time you leave the house, make sure to grab your favorite pair of sunglasses. If you don’t have a pair you love, maybe it’s time for a guilt-free shopping trip. It’s for your health, after all.