It’s that time of year again: National Eye Injury Prevention Month (otherwise known as July). Not coincidentally, we’re choosing this month to alert you to some common seasonal vision threats—and to show you how choosing the proper eyewear can save wear and tear on your baby blues (or your middle-aged browns, or your borderline-senior greens—all kinds of people read this blog, you know).
The Hazards of UV Rays
As you probably know, ultraviolet radiation comes from the sun. All the time. Even on cloudy days, you’re being bombarded with two different kinds of UV rays. And your eyes aren’t all that crazy about either one.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can harm the back of your eye. Specifically, the macula: a part of the retina that helps you see details.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, not to be left out, can harm the front part of your eye, where the cornea and lens are.
Now, we’re not trying to scare you out of going outside this summer. But before you leave the house, we do want to make you aware of the risks of overexposure (and under-protection).
Some Common Issues Caused by UV Damage
Photokeratitis is generally a temporary issue, caused by a lot of UV rays making contact with your eyes in a short time. Symptoms include pain, redness, sensitivity to light, and a gritty feeling—kind of like getting a sunburn in your eye.
Cataracts, unfortunately, are less temporary. Caused by years of repeated exposure to UV rays, this condition clouds the lenses in your eyes, and can lead to blurry vision, light sensitivity, and the perception of bright colors as faded.
Macular degeneration is another serious condition that can be caused by prolonged exposure to UV rays over time, breaking down the macula in the back of your eye, and leading to a loss of central vision.
The Solution is Right in Front of Your Face
So, what’s the easiest way to protect your eyes against ultraviolet light? Not surprisingly, the answer is sunglasses. But not just any pair will do.
For instance: polarized lenses, while good at reducing glare from light, don’t provide any UV defense by themselves. You need to find a pair that’s been combined with a UV-blocking substance.
To give your eyes the greatest protection, look for shades with a UV400 label, which signifies 100% protection against both UVA and UVB rays. You can find a roundup of current, stylish, and generally affordable models here. (Can we call that a site for sore eyes? We can’t? Okay. Sorry.)
Guarding Eyes on the Playing Field
Of course, not all vision threats come from the sun. Every year, more than 42,000 eye injuries are related to sports and recreation. More than 70% of those injuries befall people under 25.
When taking part in sporting events this summer (or any time of year), protective eyewear is an effective way to guard against errant balls, sticks, fingers, or debris. And the most effective form of protection varies from sport to sport.
Goggles—the polycarbonate sort—are a good choice for sports ranging from racquetball, to basketball, to swimming. But be sure to find a pair that fits snugly.
Eye shields (again, polycarbonate ones) are a more appropriate, impact-resistant choice for baseball players. You’ll want to find a shield that meets the ANSI Z87.1 optical safety standard. (And, going back to the sun, we’re suggesting finding one that blocks UV rays as well.)
Face masks are basically metal cages that protect your face, and they’re mostly associated with fencers, hockey goalies, and football players (although football players could use an eye shield, too).
Underwater masks are suitable for divers and snorkelers. We recommend looking for a lens made of glass—since that’s the most scratch-resistant material.
Whether you’re avoiding athletic injuries this summer, or defending your eyes from the sun’s rays, remember protecting against vision hazards is all in how you look at it—and more importantly, what you’re looking at it through.