UV glasses, which protect against ultraviolet radiation, are growing in popularity as more and more people learn about the harmful rays from the sun. While most people protect their skin from the sun, some don't realize they should protect their vision. After all, your eyes absorb the same harmful rays. UV blocking glasses can help prevent serious damage. The health risks are real and include cataracts and macular degeneration. UV protection sunglasses may help prevent the damage UV radiation can do to your eyes.
There are three different types of ultraviolet radiation — UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. You probably don't hear much about UV-C because the earth's ozone layer absorbs it so its threat is minimal to nonexistent. But UV-A and UV-B each can cause long-term and short-term damage to your eyes and your vision. And while the sun is the daily risk when it comes to ultraviolet radiation, welding machines, tanning beds, and lasers can also produce UV rays.
Short-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation without wearing UV protection sunglasses will most likely cause short-term effects similar to a sunburn, but in your eye. Your eyes may be red and puffy and could feel gritty, like you have sand in them. You could be very sensitive to light and may suffer excessive tearing. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually only temporary. But if your eyes are exposed to long-term solar radiation, you stand a greater risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration later in life.
UV protection means blocking the ultraviolet light from reaching your eyes. Just as sunscreen helps protect your skin from UV damage, UV glasses block most of the ultraviolet rays reaching your eyes. It's possible to block 99 percent to 100 percent of ultraviolet rays from reaching your delicate eyes and causing damage.
UV sunglasses, however, must offer both UV-A and UV-B protection to block at least 99 percent of ultraviolet radiation. They should also block 75 percent to 90 percent of all visible light to maximize protection. Be cautious of buying sunglasses that are not UV-blocking glasses. The dark tint may allow your pupils to remain larger, exposing you to greater impacts from UV radiation.
Anybody who spends a lot of time outdoors should consider wearing wraparound UV glasses to cut down the amount of UV radiation that may enter the eyes from the periphery. And, it's important not to forget children and teenagers. While it may be tempting to skimp on children's UV sunglasses, don't! Protecting children's eyes is especially important because they spend so much time outdoors.
Some people get confused by the difference between the terms polarization or polarized sunglasses and UV sunglasses. They are not the same thing, even if some companies advertise them together. While most polarized lenses are also UV-blocking glasses, polarization by itself does not protect your eyes from UV radiation. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, "polarization is unrelated to UV protection, so you still need to ensure UV absorption of the lenses."
The effects of a polarizing filter on the sky in a photograph. The picture on the right uses the filter.
UV protection may be applied to regular sunglasses. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says "UV coatings on prescription clear lenses are as effective as those on sunglasses." The AAO points out that it is not the dark tint that blocks the UV radiation, but the UV coating that is applied. Also, the type of lens material matters. According to the AAO, polycarbonate lenses block ultraviolet radiation without any coating, but plastic lenses must have the coating added to be considered UV blocking glasses.
Make sure you buy sunglasses with UV protection or you're risking eye problems later in life. And when you get regular prescription glasses, opt for the UV coating to better protect your eyes all the time.
Featured image: jase on Flickr