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Protect your eyes: Don’t forget a hat and big, good sunglasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays

Next time you step outside to enjoy the summer sun, don’t forget to bring a pair of sunglasses.

Most people know that the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays are bad for the skin. But did you know that too much sun on unprotected eyes increases the risk of eye diseases?

This summer, the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons  and the American Academy of Ophthalmology remind you that sunglasses are more than a bold fashion statement; they are a smart health choice.

Long-term exposure to the sun without proper protection can increase the risk of eye disease, including cataract, macular degeneration, growths on the eye and a rare form of eye cancer. Even short-term exposure can damage the eyes.

Sun reflecting off water can cause a painful sunburn on the front part of the eye, called photokeratitis. It causes redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to bright light, and in rare cases, even temporary vision loss.

The good news is that prevention is simple: Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. When purchasing sunglasses, ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – urge the public to choose substance over style, and consider these 6 shopping tips:

◦ Shop labels. The single most important thing to look for when buying sunglasses is a sticker or tag indicating that they block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
◦ Buy oversized. The more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes. Consider buying oversized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on UV entering the eye from the side.
◦ Don’t be fooled by color. While very dark lenses may look cool, they do not necessarily block more UV rays.
◦ Consider your sport. Some sunglasses come with amber, green or gray lenses. They do not block more sun but can increase contrast, which may be useful for athletes who play sports such as baseball or golf.
◦ Consider polarized lenses. Polarization reduces glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. This does not offer more protection from the sun but can make activities like driving or being on the water safer or more enjoyable.
◦ Don’t break the bank! Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to provide adequate eye protection. Less expensive pairs marked as 100 percent UV-blocking can be just as effective as pricier options.

If you doubt your sunglasses have the UV protection claimed by a retail tag or if they are simply old and you want to make sure, take them to an optical shop. Any shop that has a UV light meter can test your sunglasses.

“It’s important to protect your eyes year-round, not just during the summer,” said Dianna Seldomridge, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Harmful UV rays are present even on cloudy days. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat also cuts down on exposure. And don’t forget babies and kids. They also need to wear hats and sunglasses.”

“The data is very strong that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause damage to the eyes,” said Frank Burns, M.D., president of KAEPS. “Exposure to UV rays have been linked to eye problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration, pingueculae, pterygia and photokeratitis, or ‘welder’s flash.’ To protect your eyes from UV damage, it is important to wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection. Ordinary sunglasses without UV protection may actually cause an increased risk of UV damage as the pupil will be more dilated behind the untreated lenses, thus allowing more UV rays to enter the eye.”

To learn more ways to keep your eyes healthy, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart® website.

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