Summer is nearly upon us, and that means even more Southern California sunshine.We've all heard plenty about protecting our skin...but what about our eyes? In a 2012 survey, less than half of 10,000 Americans polled recognized the health benefits of wearing sunglasses. 27% stated that they never wear sunglasses, and only 58% encourage their children to wear sunglasses. Today we will examine why we all need to own a decent pair. The eyes, eyelids, and skin around the eyes need protection from ultraviolet light. Those of us with blue eyes are at higher risk for UV damage than those with brown eyes; our Northern European ancestors simply didn't have to deal with this amount of sunshine! The UV index, of course, varies by geography: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the UV index of some 60 cities across the country. It will come as no surprise that among the highest scoring major cities are Honolulu, Miami, and New Orleans. Los Angeles appears in the top ten. Polarized lenses are most effective for blocking glare and providing comfort. Our goal should be to block out 99% of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. There are many relatively inexpensive sunglasses that accomplish this; often the cost is mostly related to the quality or name on the frames. However, more costly lenses can offer better clarity due to the quality of the lens grinding. Still not convinced to replace that old broken pair? Consider: Cataracts (cloudiness in the lens of the eye): The World Health Organization reports that, worldwide, approximately 900,000 people are blind due to cataracts. Cataracts can be triggered by UV exposure. Photo keratitis (snow blindness): UV exposure can lead to this temporary and painful sunburn of the eye's surface. Macular degeneration: The UV and blue light portions of the solar spectrum have been implicated as a risk factor for macular degeneration. Melanin is the substance in our skin, hair, and eyes that provides natural protection from UV and blue light. As we age, melanin levels decrease, and by age 65 about half of that protection is gone. Pterygium: These are abnormal growths of tissue (also known as surfer's eye). They can be surgically removed, but may return. Exposure to UV rays is a significant contributing factor. Skin cancer: Protecting the eyelids and skin around the eyes is important; as much as 10% of all skin cancers are found on the eyelids. Night vision: Spending just two or three hours in the bright sunlight hampers vision in the dark; the eye's ability to adapt quickly to nighttime or indoor lighting can be affected. Comfort: The sun's brightness and glare can be quite unpleasant. Be careful when considering picking up that $10 pair of sunglasses. It is possible they can actually do more harm than good. Cutting down on visible light with dark lenses of any type makes the pupils dilate, letting even more damaging UV rays into the eyes than would no sunglasses at all! Most qualified sunglasses have a label showing that they meet national standards such as ANSI (American National Standards Institute). Make sure your sunglasses are comfortable, so that you are more likely to use them. They do no good sitting in your car. Wear them any time your eyes will be exposed to UV light, including cloudy days and winter months. Consider wearing wide-brimmed hats and caps to block even more radiation. Don't forget the children in your life - they typically spend more time in the sun than adults do. Keep your sunglasses in mind whether you are working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, running errands, or doing anything at all in the sun. It's never too late to start. Enjoy our wonderful sunshine - but carefully! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: April 25, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 02