You have probably heard the line, "the future is so bright, I gotta wear shades” and if you've ever spotted a celebrity, you know they even wear them at night.
The reality is that the sun can cause severe damage to eyes and protecting your eyesight is not just important, its instrumental.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, an estimated 2,390 men and women were diagnosed with cancer of the eye and 240 died in 2008.
Long-term exposure to the sun without proper protection can increase the risk of eye diseases and problems that include, Macular Degeneration, cataracts, Pterygium which is a growth on the eye, and cancer.
The eyelid is designed to protect the eye, its skin is exceedingly thin and contains many fragile tissues that can be injured by UV light.
The inside of the eye is also vulnerable to sunlight. Although rare, Intraocular melanoma is the most common eye cancer in adults.
Even short-term exposure can damage the eyes.
Sun reflecting off water, concrete and snow can cause inflammation called Photo keratitis on the front part of the eye. It be thought of as a sunburn to the eye.
It causes redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to bright light, and, in rare cases, even temporary vision loss.
Some medications including antibiotics especially those for glaucoma make eyes more susceptible to sunlight. Light colored eyes are also more susceptible.
The color of your eyes is created by melanin, which also dictates your skin color.
The more melanin in your iris, which is the colored area surrounding the pupil, the darker your eye color will be.
Caucasian babies are born with no melanin, and thus have blue eyes, until about three years of age when their eyes darken to their permanent color (Asian and African-American babies are born with dark brown eyes).
More melanin also means better protection from the sun.
The pigment in your eyes literally protects your retina therefore light eyes are at increased risk for skin cancer and some eye diseases because they contain less of the protective pigment melanin.
So How Can you protect your eyes?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends investing in a good pair of sunglasses. Here are a few tips for buying the ones that will protect the best.
1. Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. Labels can sometimes be confusing. Some indicate sunglasses offer 100 percent protection from UVA/UVB radiation, others offer 100 percent UV 400 protection. Rest assured, both will block 100% of the sun's harmful radiation.
2. Doubt the UV protection label? Take your sunglasses to an optical shop or an ophthalmologist’s office. Most have a UV light meter that can test the UV-blocking ability of sunglasses. Call before you go. Most shouldn't charge to check.
3. Buy over-sized. Its not just for celebrities. The more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes. Consider buying over-sized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on UV entering the eye from the side.
4. Don’t be fooled by color. While dark lenses may look cool, they do not block more UV rays.
5. You don’t need to pass on cheap sunglasses. Sunglasses don't have to cost a lot of money to provide adequate eye protection. Less expensive pairs marked as 100% UV-blocking can be just as effective as pricier options.
6. Don’t forget the kids. Children are just as susceptible to the sun's harmful rays as adults. Get them wearing sunglasses early.
7. 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.
The bottom line, sunlight should not be taken lightly and sunglasses are the sunscreen for your eyes.
Your eyes need protection from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays all year round, and even on cloudy days just like your skin.
Again, just like skin, damage to the eyes from UV radiation is cumulative, meaning it depends on the length of time spent in the sun and it builds up over our lifetime and can have a permanent effect on our eyes and eyesight.