To Protect And Preserve

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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

While the rest of the country hunkers down for winter, we can relish in the weather that reminds us why we put up with Arizona summers. What we don’t often consider is the full affect the sun has on our eyes, even during the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter and the sun feels less intense. Surveys show that whereas almost nine out of 10 people understand that Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) can be damaging to our skin, almost nine out of 10 do not realize the potential damage that repeated UVR exposure can have on our eyes. This is particularly relevant for our children, since up to 80 percent of lifetime UVR exposure occurs by age 18. Unfortunately, like skin damage, the effect of UVR to our eyes is cumulative, and may not show up for decades. For example, up to one-third of all cataracts are as a result of long-term UV exposure. There are also unsightly benign growths on the white part of our eyes that result directly from UVR exposure, as well as cancerous growths, and potential retinal damage (e.g., macular degeneration).

UV coatings in glasses and contact lenses are virtually clear. The degree of tinting (lens darkness) merely determines how much the visible light might be reduced. Although even cheaper sunglass lenses can have adequate UV protection, they may distort vision as a result of inferior optics of the lenses. Sunglasses should have three qualities: ample coverage (size of the glasses) to protect the eyelids (one of the major locations for melanoma) as well as the sides of the eyes, good optics and adequate levels of UV-blocking. On another note, most contact lenses offer about 10 percent UVR protection, however, there are now contact lenses that provide protection equivalent to sunglasses. Lastly, recent studies show that the “blue end” of the visible spectrum can cause damage to the eyes. Newer lens coatings are now available to block these rays as well.

Optimal UVR protection involves a hat with a brim, sunglasses and where appropriate, contact lenses with UVR protection. As the New Year begins, make a resolution to protect your eyes early and often. In the long run, your eyes will thank you for it.

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