Five Ways to Protect Your Eyes from Sun Damage This Summer

How to Make Healthy Sunglass Choices

Overexposure to the sun can wreak havoc on your eyes. Sun damage can cause severe conditions such as photokeratitis (sunburn to the cornea), pterygium (tissue growth on the whites of eyes that can block vision), and skin cancer on the eyelids. It also has been implicated in the development of cataracts and possibly macular degeneration.

"Although not every situation or every person requires sunglasses, there are many situations where the use of sunglasses will enhance comfort and may provide eye health benefits as well," says Jessica Ciralsky, MD, an attending ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Stephen Trokel, an attending ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, vice chair of CUMC’s Department of Ophthalmology, and director of the Columbia Vision Correction Center, says, "There are strong indications that chronic exposure to the components of sunlight may accelerate aging of ocular tissues. Any protective eyewear should also include side shield protection or wrap around the eyes to prevent light from entering from the side."

Drs. Ciralsky and Trokel offer a five-point checklist to help you choose the best sun protection for your eyes during the summer and all year round:

  • Check the UV protection level. UV protection (protection from ultraviolet rays) is desirable year round; also, sunglasses should be worn during daylight hours even when the weather is cloudy or hazy. Your sunglasses should provide more than 95 percent UV protection.
  • Check the lens tint. Most people believe that darker sunglasses provide better protection, but that is not necessarily the case. The lens tint should block 80 percent of transmissible light (light that can be transmitted through the lens), but no more than about 90 percent of light, or it will be hard for you to see. Neutral gray, amber, brown, and green are good colors to choose from.
  • Make sure your eyes are protected from all angles. Choose sunglasses that wrap all the way around the temples and/or wear a hat with a three-inch brim that can block the overhead sunlight.
  • Wear sunglasses over your contact lenses. People who wear contact lenses that offer UV protection should still wear sunglasses. Sunglasses help to prevent the drying effect most contact lens-wearers experience, which is caused by warm wind.
  • Buy sunglasses for your children. Consider buying sunglasses with UV protection for your children, and remember that the eyes of small infants should always be shaded from direct exposure to the sun.