Sunglasses are not just a fashion statement, but an essential preventive healthcare tool.
As we enjoy the summer months, it’s important for us to protect ourselves against the sun. While most people are accustomed to wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated, one thing that many people forget about is their eye health.
We spoke with Raymond Girgis, MD, FAAO, an ophthalmologist on staff at Jefferson Health, to learn more about how we can protect our eyes during the summer months—and all year round.
The Importance of Sunglasses
One of the most common misconceptions about wearing sunglasses is that they’re just a fashion statement. “Sunglasses with 100% UV protection are critically important to overall long-term eye health,” Dr. Girgis says.
One of the leading reasons why eye protection is important is to slow the progression of cataracts—when the lenses in our eyes become hard and cloudy. “Increased exposure to UV rays speeds up the development of cataracts. Without proper eye protection from the sun, you’re more likely to see the effects of cataracts earlier in life,” Dr. Girgis explains.
An increase in UV exposure can also result in scar tissue formation—called pinguecula or pterygium—and also may play a role in macular degeneration, a disease affecting the center of the retina that causes a decrease in vision.
Best Practices for Eye Health
Protecting your eyes isn’t just about wearing sunglasses, but also making sure you’re practicing healthy habits, buying the right kind of eye protection, and keeping sunglasses in pristine condition.
“When buying sunglasses, it’s critical to look for lenses that offer 100% UV protection, whether they’re polarized or not,” says Dr. Girgis. “However, once your sunglasses are scratched, they’re no longer able to block the UV light from your eyes. Be sure to always store them in a case to protect their lenses and replace sunglasses once they get scratched.”
Beyond keeping your sunglasses from getting damaged, it’s also important to remember to wear them consistently. “There’s a common misconception that you only need to wear sunglasses in the spring and summer months, but you should really be wearing them year-round,” says Dr. Girgis. “Any time you’re outdoors or in the car and it’s sunny outside, your sunglasses should be on.”
In addition to protecting your eyes against UV rays, if you’re spending your summer months doing yard work or odd jobs around the house, it’s important to think about protection from physical injury. “Whether you’re mowing the lawn or installing a light fixture inside, you should be wearing safety glasses to prevent serious eye injuries,” says Dr. Girgis. “Pick up a pair of safety glasses from any hardware store or other retailer and make sure to protect your eyes.”
Visiting Your Eye Doctor
Beyond protecting your eyes from UV rays and physical injury, visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis can help ensure you catch any eye condition or illness early on. The recommended frequency for eye exams depends on your age.
People 50 years of age and older should have an eye exam once annually. For those under age 50, the guidelines for eye exams are:
- First eye exam starting between ages 5 to 7
- Every two years if you don’t wear glasses or contacts
- Once every one to two years if you wear glasses
- Once per year if you wear contacts
If you are experiencing unusual eye health symptoms, make an appointment with your eye doctor right away. Common reasons for an ophthalmologist visit include:
- Blurry vision
- Eye fatigue or strain
- Excessive itching
- Fluctuations in vision
- Eye pain or discomfort
- Sensitivity to sunlight
Dr. Girgis advises patients to not wait to get an eye exam if they’re concerned about eye health, have noticeable changes in vision, or have an extensive family history of eye diseases like glaucoma.