Why do we wear sun glasses? A little style conscious / simply vain? Want to hide those bushy eyebrows in between eye threading appointments? Aware of the dangers of UV radiation? …errr…

We all know the importance of sun protection for our skin but what about the harm that it can do to our eyes? The ‘eye’ is a marvellous creation and has evolved to protect itself from UV rays. The eye is recessed within our skull and is shielded by eyebrows and eyelashes. Not forgetting our ‘beautiful’ pupils that constrict in bright light to minimise the penetration of the sun’s rays. Fact: Centuries ago women used an extract from the bella donna (Italian for beautiful lady) plant to appear more seductive with dilated pupils. We still use a derivative in optometry to dilate your pupils for clinical assessments.

Too much exposure to UV light and then what? Lets start from the front of the eye working backwards…

  1. The white part of the eye (conjunctiva) can develop a pteurygium / pinguecula. These appear as unsightly ‘growths’ on the surface. Benign but can become inflamed causing a red appearance and only sight threatening if left unchecked.

  2. The lens within the eye allows us to see far and close. Unfortunately chronic exposure to UV rays changes the chemical composition. It initially turns it yellow / brown and then becomes opaque…. often referred to as a cataract. Relatively easily dealt with through surgery and usually occurs in latter years. Please note there are several types of cataract and some can occur at a very early age but are beyond the scope of this blog.

  3. If we follow our visual axis to the back of the eye, we come to a structure called the macula. This point consists of a high concentration of cones and its how we see the small stuff. Unfortunately chronic exposure to UV light can lead to ARMD (age related macula degeneration). ARMD damages your central vision, but does not lead to loss of vision and is not painful. Well what does that mean? In a nutshell. poor quality of life. Imagine not being able to read your favourite book, important paperwork or being able to see the facial expressions of your loved ones.

  4. Cancer. Unfortunately, our eyes are not immune to cancer. Not much more needs to be said.

These can take many years to develop, but each time we’re out in the sun without protection we could be ‘adding’ damage and increase the likelihood of these serious disorders.

However, prevention as my dad always said is better than cure…. Happy days!

Sunglasses are a simple device that simply helps, but be careful what you are buying and compare like for like. Here is another bit of advice courtesy of my dad…. expensive does not always mean better. Sunglasses should be CE marked and conform to European and British standards. Sit back on your deck chair and be smug as your eyes have the highest levels of UV protection.

Want to personalise your shades…

Colours are a great way to be different, but some colours serve a purpose. Grey, Green and Brown are considered neutral as they maintain true colour… considered safe when driving for example. Yellow is great for definition and makes objects appear more distinct especially in snow or haze. Blue and Purple are really more for cosmetic. Go dark or go light or simply have a bit of both. Gradient lenses are interesting… dark at the top and light at the bottom.

Go polarised…

In sports and other outdoor leisure activities we need to react to what we see but without good sun wear, glare will affect our performance. Glare results in a loss of visual performance and although most tinted lenses will provide some absorption to dampen brightness, only a polarised lens can effectively eliminate blinding glare.

Glare is caused by the horizontal light reflected off a shiny surface such as a car windscreen, sand, snow, or road surfaces – it makes vision uncomfortable and can be dangerous.

Regular non-polarised lenses filter light but do not eliminate glare – polarised lenses however filter the horizontal components of light which cause the glare. They are especially beneficial for water related activities by allowing the water surface to appear more transparent – you might even catch more fish!!

Left the sunglasses back at home… go transition / photofusion…

Known by most under the trade name of transitions or reactor light lenses, these lenses react to UV light and temperature. When indoors they are clear like an ordinary pair of spectacles but darken when stepping outside in the UV. 100% UV protection all the time in 1 pair of glasses. Oh and yes mum, I know when you put your transition glasses in the freezer they darken up!!!

To summarise…

Whether you are up a mountain, on a ski lift in the Alps or relaxing by the pool be safe in the knowledge you are wearing the correct eyewear. Always a cup of tea for anyone who may want to share their holiday snaps or ask about sunglasses!!!