Dr. Hangartner Answers Your Questions About Sun Protection
Q: What can a person do to protect themselves from sun exposure?
A: The usual recommendations, like wearing hats and using sunscreen are great places to start. However, you can’t put sunscreen in your eyes. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection not only protects the eyeball itself but also protects your eyelids and surrounding areas from sun damage. There are also certain brands of contact lenses that have 100% UV filters built in.
Q: What exactly are “ultraviolet rays”?
A: UV rays are invisible, high energy light that is emitted by the sun. Because they are high energy, they can cause burns and skin damage.
Q: How can people protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays?
A: The usual recommendations, like wearing hats and using sunscreen are great places to start. However, you can’t put sunscreen in your eyes. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection not only protects the eyeball itself, but also protects your eyelids and surrounding areas from sun damage. There are also certain brands of contact lenses that have 100% UV filters built in.
Q: Are sunglasses an important part of a sun protection plan?
A: Absolutely! Since you can’t put sunscreen in your eyes or around the delicate skin of the eyelids, sunglasses with 100% UV protection are the best way to avoid damage to the eyelids as well as the eye itself.
Q: What type of sunglasses best protect from UV rays?
A: Any lens labeled 100% UV filtering will prevent transmission of UV rays from the front of the lens to the eye itself. The larger the lens and the thicker the temples of the frame, the more area you are protecting. Also, it’s best to have an anti-reflective coating on the back side of the lenses. This helps reduce UV exposure from light coming in from the side and reflecting off the inside of the lenses. The best sunglasses are also polarized, which cuts glare from horizontal surfaces – aka reflections from the road, from bodies of water, etc.
Q: I have heard about blue light being a concern as well. Can you talk a little bit about this and what it means for protecting your eyes?
A: There is still a lot of research being done to figure out exactly what the risks are, but in general, the blue/violet spectrum is closest to the UV spectrum, so there is speculation about whether chronic exposure to blue light can cause gradual, long term damage. What is known is that blue light plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythms, or our natural wake/sleep cycles, by suppressing melatonin. Blue light from the sun is greatest during the morning hours, stimulating the wake cycle, and declines in the evening, allowing melatonin levels to rise to stimulate the sleep cycle. With the chronic use of technology, the blue light emitted from electronics such as computers and phones can keep the melatonin levels low and make it difficult to fall asleep. Using blue blocking lenses filters out some of this spectrum to allow our natural melatonin cycle to continue as usual despite using electronics at night. Many patients, myself included, notice an improvement in sleep and less eyestrain and fatigue when wearing these lenses. Alternatives are of course to limit the use of electronics in the evening!
Q: I’ve heard of getting my skin sunburned, can your eyes also get sunburned?
A: Yes, your eyes can get sunburned. Usually, this happens when welding without the proper eye protection, but it can also happen when outside all day with lots of reflecting surfaces, such as boating or skiing without sunglasses or goggles. (Yes, skiing! There’s lots of sun that reflects off that snow, making sunglasses necessary in the winter months as well!)
Q: Do darker sunglasses mean better sun protection?
A: No, the darkness of the tint is not an indicator of sun protection. You will have far better sun protection from a larger lens with 100% UV filter, polarization, and a mild/moderate level of tint than you will with a darkly tinted lens without those features. In fact, dark sunglasses without 100% UV filters are actually MORE harmful, because the dark conditions will make your pupils dilate, allowing more UV light into the eye.
Q: Does having a prescription make it harder to get the right sunglasses?
A: Absolutely not! Prescription sunglasses are very common and can be made with all the best features of sunglasses, including 100% UV filtering, polarization, and backside anti-reflective coatings. Most eyecare offices have a variety of frames that are Rx-able. The only limiting factor is that some prescriptions cannot be made in sunglasses that closely wrap around the face because of how much the lens needs to curve.
Eyeglass lenses that change as the light changes, from clear indoors to dark outdoors.