Every summer health experts focus on the importance of protecting the skin from sun damage, but what about ways to protect the eyes? An expert at Baylor College of Medicine says wearing sunglasses is the best way to protect the eyes from strong UV rays, and the bigger, the better.
“It’s very important to wear some sort of eye protection like sunglasses,” said Dr. Sumitra Khandelwal, assistant professor in ophthalmology at Baylor. “You don’t have to go out and buy a $400 pair of sunglasses; there are plenty of $30 to $40 glasses that work well.”
When buying sunglasses, Khandelwal said those that offer 100 percent UVAB protection are the best option not only for the eye but also the skin around the eye where sunscreen is typically not applied. “The skin around the eye is a very big hot spot for small cancers to develop over time. It’s important to get nice big sunglasses, and it’s great the fashion now is big sunglasses to cover up that area,” she said.
Polarized sunglasses are a preference for many people, and Khandelwal said they offer pros and cons. Polarized sunglasses help reduce glare as well as cut down on reflected light which can be a source of UV rays. However, those who attempt to view a cell phone or tablet with anti-glare screens will lose the ability to see the screen while wearing their glasses. “I catch people at the beach or at the pool with their sunglasses on top of their head because they are trying to read their iPad. It’s important to keep the sunglasses on, and rotate your electronic equipment to get a better look while still protecting your eyes,” she said.
In addition to skin cancer, sunglasses also offer protection against cataracts, since long-term sun exposure is known to increase the risk of cataracts forming.
Wearing sunglasses in the summer is also a good way to protect the eye from an eye injury that may occur when playing outdoor sports. “We always say that when it comes to different equipment and different balls, the smaller the ball the more harsh the injury. But if you have eye protection and are wearing big sunglasses, that will protect the eye from any objects coming toward you,” she said.
All sunglasses sold in the U.S. are federally mandated to have UV protection, but Khandelwal warns of buying sunglasses online that may be from another country.
“I wouldn’t recommend buying sunglasses online from a site that you are unsure of. You want to make sure you are getting the best protection when buying sunglasses, and in the U.S., all sunglasses even an inexpensive pair, have UV protection.”
Lastly, Khandelwal says not to forget about children. "Sun protection starts early so get the little ones in the habit of wearing a hat and sunglasses as well," she said.