ST. LOUIS, May 20, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- After much of the United States experienced an extended "polar vortex" this winter, summer can't come soon enough. As warm weather approaches, many Americans will gladly shed their winter coats for shorts, flip flops and, most importantly, sunglasses. While many will look for fashionable eyewear, the most critical factor to keep in mind is making sure sunglasses provide adequate protection from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation, which comes from the sun (and from tanning beds), is what can cause harm to skin and eyes.
According to the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2014 American Eye-Q® survey, 41 percent of consumers do not check the UV protection level before purchasing sunglasses and only 30 percent of Americans said UV protection is the most important factor when purchasing sunglasses, ahead of glare reduction/comfortable vision (27 percent), style (15 percent), price (14 percent) and fit (9 percent).
"The harmful effects of long-term exposure to UV are a real concern because it can cause damage to the eye, possibly resulting in cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, or an abnormal growth called Pterygium," said Beth Kneib, O.D., director of the AOA's Clinical Resources Group.
Short-term exposure to UV rays from a day at the beach, for example, can be serious and could lead to a condition known as photokeratitis, also known as "sunburn of the eye." Symptoms of photokeratitis include red eyes, a foreign-body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. These side effects are usually temporary and rarely cause permanent damage to the eyes, but to be sure overexposure is the only problem, patients should consult with their eye doctor if they have these symptoms.
Children Need Protection
In addition, the average child takes in approximately three times the annual UV exposure of the average adult and up to 80 percent of their lifetime exposure occurs before age 20. Unlike the lens found in an adult eye, which is more mature, a child's lens cannot filter out UV rays as easily, causing damage to the retina.
"Exposure to UV rays can cause problems for people of all ages, but it is critical for children to protect their eyes since they are more transparent than an adult's. By learning to protect their eyes early, they can possibly avoid UV damage," said Dr. Kneib.
What to Look for in Lenses and Frames
For optimal eye sun-safety, the AOA recommends wearing sunglasses or contact lenses that offer appropriate UV protection, applying UV-blocking sunscreen and wearing a hat to keep direct sunlight off of the face and eyes. The AOA also recommends:
- Lenses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays.
- Lenses that have a uniform tint, not darker in one area from another. Gradient lenses should lighten gradually with the bottom being lightest.
- Lenses that are free of distortion and imperfection.
- A frame that fits close to the eyes and contours to the shape of the face, in order to prevent exposure to UV radiation from all sides, even behind.
- Prescription glasses with tints and full UV protection. While some contact lenses also offer UV protection, these should be worn with sunglasses to maximize protection.
- Staying out of the sun during the peak UV exposure risk hours for the eyes, from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.
There are also a number of lens and frame options that can enhance vision for particular activities, such as:
- Polarized lenses, which reduce reflected glare from sunlight that bounces off snow or water and add comfort and enhance vision when cross-country skiing, fishing or driving.
- "Blue-blocking" lenses help make distant objects easier to see, especially in snow or haze, which is great for skiers, boaters and hunters.
- Polycarbonate lenses to provide impact protection, an important option for potentially hazardous work, sports and other activities.
- Photochromic (transition) lenses that offer convenience since the lens darkens or lightens depending on the light exposure.
The best way to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep up to date on the latest in UV protection is by scheduling yearly comprehensive eye exams. To find an optometrist in your area, or for additional information on how best to protect your eyes from UV radiation, please visit http://www.aoa.org/uv-protection.xml.
About the survey:
The ninth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From March 20-25, 2014 using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 3.10 percent confidence level)
About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association, a federation of state, student and armed forces optometric associations, was founded in 1898. Today, the AOA is proud to represent the profession of optometry, America's family eye doctors, who take a leading role in an individual's overall eye and vision care, health and well-being. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. For information on a variety of eye health and vision topics, and to find an optometrist near you, visit www.aoa.org.
SOURCE American Optometric Association