While a pair sunglasses are often thought of as a fashion accessory for the beach, or a necessity for driving, it is important to remember that the main purpose is to protect your eyes from UV rays, which are a significant contributor to cataracts and should be worn anytime you are outdoors.
Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness, and in the United States, more than 25.7 million people have them, according to Prevent Blindness, which has declared June National Cataract Awareness Month. The organization estimates that that number will rise to 38.5 million by 2032 and 45.6 million by 2050.
A cataract is the clouding of an eye’s lens that blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. They typically form in both eyes, although at different growth rates. Aging is the number one cause of cataracts, but other factors include extended exposure to nonvisible sunlight, otherwise known as UV.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends always wearing sunglasses when outdoors, including when working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk or running errands. When shopping for the perfect shades, look for lenses that:
• Block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation;
• Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
• Are well matched in color and absorption and free of distortion and imperfection; and
• Are gray to prevent any interference with good color vision.
In addition to cataracts, UV exposure can cause cancer of the eyelids and skin around the eyes, according to the AOA, as well as photokeratitis, a temporary but painful sunburn of the eye's surface; macular degeneration; and trouble with darkness adaptation.
“Spending just two or three hours in bright sunlight can hamper the eyes' ability to adapt quickly to nighttime or indoor light levels. This can make driving at night more hazardous,” according to the AOA's website.
So while grabbing the right shades is important for summer fun, don’t forget their importance year round and for all outdoor activities.