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A series of sunglasses in different shapes and styles. The lenses are in the shape of a U & V.

Sunglasses 101

Wearing sunglasses seems like a simple task. But is it?

Signs of spring are everywhere! Longer days, chirping birds, and warmer temperatures have arrived here in the Midwest and I could not be happier about it (I'm not a huge fan of winter). With spring's arrival comes this year’s fresh batch of sunglasses! They’re scattered all over the aisles of our local stores, but it isn't always clear as to which ones really help protect our eyes and which ones are better left on the shelves. This article will help you figure out which sunglasses to purchase if you’re in for a new pair this season!

Sunglasses aren’t seasonal

Sunglasses are always ‘in’. There really isn’t a specific season for sunglasses. Especially for those of us battling macular degeneration. Though, there is something about the spring and summer seasons in some areas of the world that bring sunglasses front and center of our stores. Warmer weather, sunnier days, and more time spent outside reminds us that we should be protecting our eyes from the sun!

Everyone really should protect our fragile retinas from harsh sunlight all year long no matter the season or weather. Wearing sunglasses is one of the easiest ways to protect our eyes. And it’s important to remember that the sun sends potentially harmful light rays down to us even when it’s cold and even when it’s cloudy.

An excuse to treat myself

For me, spring signals the new styles coming out in the stores and an excuse to treat myself to some new shades! When it comes to decision making for my sunglasses each day, it isn’t a matter of if I’ll wear my sunglasses, it’s a matter of which ones! So, I like to have a variety... but not just any will do! They have to be attractive AND effective.

Sunglasses that filter out UV light

Each of us prefers different types of sunglasses, but ALL of us should make sure that harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are being filtered from their lenses. There are two types of UV light, UVA and UVB. Both types of UV light can damage our eyes in the same way they can damage our skin (think sunburn and eventually possible skin cancer). They just go about doing their damage in different ways.

For the best eye protection, you’ll want to only purchase sunglasses that filter 100% of all UV light. It’s also important to help protect the sensitive skin around our eyes with sunglasses that have larger lens sizes.

Most sunglasses don’t filter out blue light

Those of us familiar with macular degeneration may have heard about blue light being harmful to our eyes as well. It’s important to remember that most sunglasses don’t filter blue light for us. Blue light is emitted from the sun and from electronic devices. It is easy to filter out blue light from our electronic devices in the settings section of each device. Special blue light blocking glasses are available for us as well.

Tinted Lenses

Another obstacle of finding your perfect pair of sunglasses are the variety of lens tint colors and polarization available. There are rose tints, yellow tints, mirrored lenses, and many more. The amount of UV protection is unrelated to tint color or darkness of lenses in sunglasses. However, some people do see things more clearly or ‘crisp’ when using a certain colored tint in their lenses. The best way to see which ‘color’ lens you prefer is to try them on!

Should kids wear sunglasses?

Those of us in the macular degeneration community already know that it’s extremely important for us to protect our ‘already sick’ eyes with sunglasses. We also know that macular degeneration is hereditary and that we can help prevent onset or severity of the disease with eye protection in our family members. That means that it’s just as important (if not more important) for us to teach our children and grandchildren to wear them as well.

Teaching healthy eye habits early on

In general, children tend to spend a lot more time outdoors than most adults do. Besides that, the lens inside children’s eyes are clearer than in adults’ eyes so it’s easier for UV rays to reach their retinas and do some serious damage. We should all be protecting our eyes every time we are outside, not just those with current vision loss or a diagnosis. Kids are often distracted by what they’re doing and don’t always stop to grab their sunglasses. Teaching this habit early on can help prevent some unnecessary damage to our young loved ones' eyes.

Swimming goggles and sports glasses

I always purchase my sons' swimming goggles and sports glasses with a UV protective tint to the lenses. This is especially important for those long and very sunny days we spend outside at the swimming pool or on the soccer field. It’s important to mention the intensity of sunlight reflecting off of the water’s surface.

The cost of protective eye gear is worth the benefits

My oldest son has a corrective lens, so I purchase his sports glasses at his optometrist’s office. It’s also easy to purchase tinted swimming goggles with corrective lenses, but I can do this online without even needing to go through his optometrist. Bonus, they aren’t as expensive as you’d think. The benefits of protecting my boys’ eyes far outweigh the cost of protective eye gear.

A few interesting facts about our eyes and sunglasses

  • People with darker skin colors are less likely to get sunburned or cancer from UV light (it is still recommended for everyone to protect their skin with sunscreen, shade, and hats). But those who have darker skin and darker colored eyes have the same amount of risk of their eyes being damaged by the sun’s harmful UV light.
  • Some contact lenses protect our irises from UV light, but not the white of our eyes. Therefore, it’s important for even contact wearers to wear sunglasses.
  • A hat can help protect our eyes further, as UV light can reach them from the space between our sunglasses and our face.
  • Not all sunglasses filter 100% of UV light. Read labels carefully before purchasing your pair. You should wear sunglasses during all seasons of the year.
  • The sun can especially be harmful when gleaming off of the snow in the winter or water in the summer.
  • And, the sun’s rays are just as strong on cold days as they are on warm ones. UV exposure is also greater at higher altitudes.
  • The closer to the equator you live, the stronger the sun’s UV rays.
  • UV exposure is greater during the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm every day. These are also the hours of the day where you’re more likely to get sunburned skin.
  • Certain medications can increase a person’s sensitivity to UV light. Ask your doctor if you have concerns about this.

There’s a lot to consider when looking for the perfect pair of sunglasses. I’d love to hear which kind you prefer. Post a description or photo in the comments of you wearing your favorite pair of shades!

Happy Spring!

Andrea Junge

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