Sun Safety Measures for Your Eyes

Dr. Gene Sherman

Jul 1, 2012

Sun Safety Measures for Your Eyes

Summer is here!  As you prepare to have fun in the sun, it is equally important that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from the sun as well. Choosing clothing that offers more protection from the sun’s rays, purchasing and using a sunscreen based on its SPF, seeking shade and even taking precautions on cloudy days are a few steps that can aid in protection from UV radiation.  While most Americans are aware that extended exposure to UV rays can cause skin cancer, wrinkles and brown spots, most are not aware that it also can cause eye disease.  Contrary to popular belief, UV damage is not reversible and let’s face it - your face and eyes are exposed to the sun more than any other parts of your body.

You may ask yourself how something that “brightens your day” can cause so much harm.  Well, let’s look deeper into it. Sunlight is made up of two kinds of rays: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays can penetrate clouds, glass and even deep into skin.  UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn. Excessive exposure to both UV rays can lead to the development of skin cancer.  UV rays can also cause or contribute to the deterioration of vision. According to Transitions Optical, Inc., although only small amounts (around 1 percent) of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular tissues are extremely susceptible to their damaging effects, making these amounts clinically significant. Cataracts and macular degeneration have been linked to prolonged exposure to UV rays. With over 30 million Americans suffering today from these types of eye diseases  that can ultimately lead to blindness, and 5-10 percent of all skin cancers occurring on the eyelids , it is important that sun protection and vision preservation measures are taken. 
One of the most effective preventive measures is wearing sunglasses with 100-percent UV protection. It is extremely important that you have a pair of glasses with quality lenses as they are your first line of defense in protecting your eyes. It is highly recommended that the lenses you wear block 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.

There are several types of lenses that provide some protection from sunlight – fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses - but not all sunglasses provide adequate protection from UV rays. Make sure that the fixed tint glasses you select are labeled as providing 100 percent UV protection. Wearing glasses that do not provide sufficient protection can result in increased exposure to UV rays.  Adaptive lenses, also known as photochromic lenses, adapt to their surroundings, changing from clear while indoors to a darker shade to block light while outdoors, all while providing 100 percent UV protection. Polarized lenses are primarily used to block polarized light that causes an extreme glare generated when light reflects on water, snow and other flat surfaces.  In any case, you do not have to compromise your style or have the budget of a star to obtain sunglasses that offer complete UV protection.

Another preventive measure is to have an annual comprehensive eye exam. Sight is often recognized as the most important sense, yet vision care is often neglected as many people only visit the eye doctor if they are experiencing issues with their sight. In fact, you may not be aware of your vision issues because you often will not experience any symptoms until after significant damage has occurred. Annual eye exams are key to preserving your vision; your eye doctor can detect eye diseases and issues with a comprehensive eye exam. 

Eye exams also enable your eye doctor to detect early signs of other conditions and diseases prior to your primary care physician giving you a definitive diagnosis. Your eyes are windows to your health, so it should come as no surprise that having an annual eye exam can lead to the detection of many issues, including cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. An eye screening is not an equal alternative option to a comprehensive eye exam – it can only indicate the existence of a vision problem or a potential vision problem. By identifying health conditions and issues in their early stages, you can indirectly save money on potentially more serious medical expenses as well. Even if you do not wear glasses or contacts and have not experienced any vision issues, it is important that you take preventive measures to maintain your quality of vision and overall health.

Though not a preventive measure itself, vision insurance can make other preventive measures listed here more accessible and affordable. According to Jobson Optical Research’s 2006 survey, more than 75 percent of U.S. residents between the age of 25 and 64 require some sort of vision correction.  Most vision plans cover routine eye exams and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for frames, lenses, contacts and other vision-related materials. Some plans also offer wellness programs, discounts for LASIK and PRK surgery or prescription safety eyewear. 

With vision insurance, you have access to a network of credentialed eye doctors and retail optical materials outlets that provide important health and wellness benefits.  Network providers’ services tend to be less expensive than those of out-of-network providers and some networks’ eye care providers will offer discounts on additional purchases or services not covered by insurance. According to the Vision Council of America’s 2007 VCA Consumer Report, 43 percent of American adults do not have vision insurance. It is believed that most Americans do not seek eye care due to their perception of the costs associated with treatment. Poor vision is directly correlated to decreased productivity. An employer who provides group vision insurance coverage is not only investing in the well-being of his or her employees, but he or she is taking preventive measures to assist with maintaining and/or increasing productivity as well. 

It should be clear by now that preventive wellness measures are important to your overall health. As you prepare for summer activities, make sure you incorporate preventive measures to protect your eyesight. You rely on your eyes to do almost everything. Assets that precious are definitely worth the investment. Give your eyes quality protection (e.g., sunglasses, an annual comprehensive eye exam and vision insurance); your health will thank you for it.

About the Author

Gene Sherman, DMD, MBA is Senior Vice President of business development and professional relations at AlwaysCare Benefits, Inc. and is actively involved with the National Association of Vision Care Plans. AlwaysCare offers and administers voluntary and employer-paid benefits, including Dental, Vision, Critical Illness, Accident, Life, Disability and Limited Benefit Medial plans.  We make life a little easier for our members and administrators with one bill, one point of contact, one phone number, one customer service center and one website to manage their supplemental benefits. Contact Gene at GeneS@alwayscarebenefits.com

 

 


  1. Vision Problems in the U.S. Study conducted by Prevent Blindness America and National Eye Institute among Americans aged 40 and older, 2008
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation