Sunglasses. They’re not just for the cool kids, the visually impaired, or the elderly after cataract surgery.
Nope. They’re for those who want to spend time in the great outdoors without exposing themselves to a world of ailments and possible vision issues. Not wearing sunglasses can lead to eye fatigue, sun damage, crow’s feet, inflammation and more.
A lot more, according to Premier Vision of Dallas owner and University of Houston College of Optometry graduate, Dr. Karen Allen, OD.
“Sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement. They protect your eyes from UV and blue light, which can cause cataracts and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness,” she said.
“They can also help prevent pinguecula and pterygium, which result from UV exposure and cause redness and irritation and can lead to irregular astigmatism and blurred vision.”
A pinguecula is a growth that looks like a yellow spot or bump on the white part of the eye.
Pterygium is a growth of fleshy tissue that might have started as a pinguecula but can grow large enough to cover part of the cornea.
Pinguecula and pterygium are both nasty!
“Sunglass frames are generally larger and provide more protection, helping prevent skin cancer on the delicate eye area,” Allen said. “They also prevent sun damage and therefore wrinkles!”
Additionally, sunglasses also protect wearers from the elements, such as snow, wind, dust and flying debris. Wearing sunglasses has also been shown to help reduce headaches, migraines and even the duration of jet lag.
But the benefits of sunglasses are more than just in what they can help prevent. A proper pair of sunglasses can actually help the wearer better see the world around them.
“Polarized lenses block reflected light, which allows more comfortable vision while driving and on water,” Allen said. “And they let you see fish through the water for more effective casting while fishing.”
The best sunglasses, not taking into account fashion sense and or fit, should offer protection from both UVA and UVB light, with UVA being ultraviolet A and UVB being ultraviolet B; both invisible light rays given off by the sun that can cause skin cancer and the aforementioned eye problems.
(Man, but if there’s not a lot of vocabulary words in this column!)
Sunglasses labeled as “UV 400” are best as they block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. Sunglasses with polarized lenses and anti-reflective coating help cut reflective glare and offer a more enjoyable outdoor experience. Mirror-coated lenses limit the amount of light entering your eyes … but also make you look like a DPS officer.
For the most durable in eye protection, look for sunglasses made with “Military spec construction.” These are the standards worn by most U.S. military pilots and NASA astronauts.
If they’re tough enough for astronauts then they’re probably tough enough to wear afield.
Also look for sunglasses with glass and polycarbonate lenses as they provide the best quality for optical clarity.
“Quality and warranty are probably the best things to look for in sunglasses,” Allen suggests. “Inexpensive frames are made in Asia as cheaply as possible, including Warby Parker, Luxottica brands like RayBan and Armani, and anything you find for under $100.
“Maui Jim and Costa both have unbelievable warranties: they warranty the frame for life from manufacturer defects, which can include almost anything,” Allen said. “I once had a pair I sent back because my dog tore off the temple. They returned a whole new pair to me for shipping.”
Bottom line though?
“Protecting your eyes from the sun is the most important use for sunglasses,” Allen said. “So, make sure you wear a pair when you’re outside.”
Gayne C. Young is an outdoors writer who resides in Fredericksburg.