Kevin Lutz, MD, FACP
May 1 2023

After a very long, dark, and snowy winter, I am happy to report Spring has sprung! While all this sunshine is a welcome change, let’s remember the sun poses a few health risks. In this blog, let’s talk about the dangers of sunlight to our eyes. 

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Just like the sun can burn our skin, it can also burn our eyes. This condition is called “photokeratitis” (that’s 23 points in Scrabble) and is caused by ultraviolet (UV) damage to the eye. It is commonly called snow blindness. UV light can also cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and other vision-limiting conditions. As you’ve heard me say many times, the key here is prevention. Buying the proper pair of sunglasses can significantly reduce your risk of eye injury and permanent damage. 

When shopping for sunglasses, look for a tag or sticker indicating 99 – 100% protection from all UV (UVA and UVB) light or UV absorption up to 400nm. Don’t be fooled by darker lenses. Darker lenses may block more visible light but they do not provide additional protection from ultraviolet light. 

Additional considerations when buying sunglasses:

  • Polarized lenses reduce glare. They are helpful when driving, fishing, playing golf, and aquatic activities. (Golf is an aquatic activity when I’m playing.) Polarized lenses enhance the visual experience but do not block UV light so look for both features.
  • Check the visual clarity of the lenses. Look at something with a rectangular pattern, like a tiled floor or ceiling tiles. Hold the glasses at a comfortable distance from your face and cover one eye while moving the glasses slowly from side to side, then up and down. If the rectangular lines stay straight, the lenses are fine. If the lines are wavy or wiggle (especially in the center of the lens), try another pair.
  • The larger the lens, the better the protection. Look for glasses with large lenses and wrap-around styles. In contrast, a larger price does not mean higher quality.
  • Mirror finishes and different lens colors do not provide any additional UV protection. A brown or rose-colored lens can provide more contrast and is helpful for skiing, golfing, basketball, etc.
  • Plastic lenses are less likely than glass lenses to shatter if hit by a rock or ball. Polycarbonate plastic sunglasses are especially tough and normally come with a scratch-resistant coating.

Sunglasses are sunscreen for your eyes.