One of the leading causes of eye damage has to do with wearing the wrong sunglasses. While you may look super cool in your new fashion shades, you may be leaving your eyes unprotected against harmful UV rays from the sun. So before you buy yourself that cute new pair of lenses, consider some facts about how the sun might be affecting your eyes and the longevity of your vision. They may lead you to think twice about what you’re buying.

UV Rays

Most people know not to look directly into the sun. But it’s also true that you need to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays during most daylight hours. There are two types of invisible, ultraviolet rays radiating from that beautiful sunshine–UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB are harmful to the eyes and skin and are strong enough to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. These two types of light differ in how much they can penetrate through an object or substance. UVA rays penetrate deeply and are known as the tanning rays. They cause damage over the long-term and are present throughout the entire year. UVB rays are those that cause a sunburn to be red. They do not reach as deeply as UVA rays but are still harmful and present short-term damage. UVB rays are typically the most present during the months of April through October from 11 am until 4 pm, but can still be dangerous at higher altitudes in winter. And if you think that the arrival of fall is a signal to put away your sunglasses, think again! UV rays can penetrate your eyes at any time of the year. Exposure to UV rays is not completely preventable, but it can be lessened. It is, however, necessary to take precaution with eyewear and sunscreen so exposure does not turn into disease or deformity.

Resulting Diseases and Deformities

You put your eyes at risk when you wear improper sunglasses (or even none at all). Chronic diseases of the eye due to sun exposure can be painful and irreparable. In the short-term, the UV rays from the sun could sunburn your corneas, causing a gritty, burning sensation in your eyes. This also results in redness and swelling of the eyes, and blurred vision. While temporary, these acute symptoms last for 24-48 hours after exposure. Not the ideal way to spend your summer night! At the very worst, long-term exposure to UV rays could result in cataracts and macular degeneration–eventually leading to blindness. Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Treatment for cataracts is a surgical procedure with a healing time of about eight weeks. Macular degeneration is considered an incurable eye disease. It is caused by the burning of the light-sensitive part of the retina (the macula). This results in the inability of the macula to focus central vision in the eye, causing a blind spot or blurred vision at least, blindness at its worst. The only way to prevent or temper blindness resulting from UV exposure is to begin wearing the right kind of protective sunglasses right away.

What to Wear and How to Tell if it Works

If you’re a bargain hunter, you might want to consider making sunglasses a bit of a splurge. There’s nothing wrong with finding a good value, but the typical kind of sunglasses you find at the store aren’t as protective as a prescription pair. This is because most non-prescription sunglasses are hardly regulated, and advertise protectiveness in terms of generics like “UV absorbing” or “blocks most UV light.” The National Eye Institute recommends sunglasses that block out 99-100% of UVA and UVB radiation. If you don’t buy a prescription, try to see if the frame has a label or a specific indication of how much UV protection they offer. The label should state a 99-100% coverage guarantee. If the label reads UV 400, it means the lenses block light waves shorter than 400 nm, which includes UVA and UVB, so you’re good. Make sure the lenses themselves are not hiding any distortions by moving your eyes left and right when trying them on. Polarization does not necessarily mean more UV protection. So, go for UV first, then you can decide if you prefer polarization for a more crisp view with less glare from horizontal surfaces. It couldn’t hurt to pair your new sunnies with a wide-brimmed hat and some sunscreen to knock out any UV light that might be getting around the lenses. Some experts even suggest that sunglasses with a larger frame could be more conducive to blocking out UV light–hello fashionista!

Since none of the nonprescription sunglasses you find are guaranteed to give you the most protection, you should consider going to an optometrist like Jackson Davenport to get your next pair of shades. It would be awful to be left out in the sun with no idea that your eyes were burning from an improper and useless pair of sunglasses. You’ll also be able to find a pair that is custom-fit to the shape of your face, making them stylish in every season of the year. By getting your prescription sunglasses today, you can be assured of the safety of your eyes for a better, brighter future you can actually see.

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