Sunglasses have their place in eye protection but there are some important things to remember.
Sunglasses are NOT the best way to reduce the eyes’ exposure to UV light. The best way is to avoid outside activities, especially during peak UV levels. Follow the Cancer Society recommendations.
Wearing sunglasses can lure people into a false sense of security. The eye is our most effective warning system that we are in danger from UV and non-UV light. Removing the unpleasant glare of visible light and the tiring natural protective mechanism of narrowing or ‘squinting’ our eyelids can result in longer outdoor exposure, not just to the eye but to the whole body. Increased sunglass wear has been associated with reduced wearing of sun hats and protective clothing, and an increased risk of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma. Stay vigilant and wear protective clothing and high SPF sun screen.
Sunglasses may also allow the pupil of the eye to dilate and actually increase the amount of some wavelengths of light entering the eye. Sunlight may be one of the causes of retinal diseases such as Age Related Macular Degeneration. Once again, limit sun exposure.
Frame design is critical
Sunglass frame design is very important. It appears that a significant factor in the development of pterygia, and possibly cortical cataract, is ‘side light’ rather that light that comes from the front. Side light bypasses both clear spectacle lenses and sunglasses and is not blocked by frames that have thin side arms.
The only things that can reduce side light are limiting outside time, close fitting wrap-around sunglasses with wide side arms, ‘fisherman’s fitovers’ with side panels, and a floppy hat with the sides pulled down around the temple.
Many people do not like this advice and the ‘geeky look’, but it is a small price to pay compared to chronically sore and unsightly pterygia, reduced vision and the costs associated with pterygium and cataract surgery.
Expensive not necessarily best
Finally, less expensive sunglasses, as long as they pass the Australia New Zealand Standards (there is usually a sticker that proves this on the lens) are just fine. Expensive sunglasses may give slightly better vision but are generally no better at protecting your eyes. You can get good quality ‘Cancer Society Approved’ sunglasses at Farmers stores.