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Long-term vision health requires diligent control of ultraviolet ray exposure

Behind the shades

For personal and professional reasons, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Florida lately. And it’s an interesting place.

The fashions you see can leave you speechless. And the “unfashions” are even worse. The plaid pants…bright gold jogging suits…and those huge wraparound sunglasses!

Where are these people shopping?!

Turns out the people donning those curious sunglasses may not be fashionistas but they are pretty smart about protecting their eyes.

Those mega-wraparound sunglasses block nearly 100 percent of ultraviolet rays. Anything less than that increases risk of photokeratitis, which is sunburn of the cornea.

Ouch! And not only is it painful, but it can also damage and kill superficial corneal cells. And that sets up the potential for serious, long-term damage.

Of course, you don’t HAVE to wear those oversized sunglasses to protect your eyes. But when you understand the consequences of UV damage, you may actually want to!

Ray of hope

Photokeratitis is an excellent reason to wear sunglasses with proper UV protection. But there are four more reasons that are just as good.

Reason two: pterygium.

When sun exposure repeatedly damages the cornea, scar tissue and blood vessels create abnormal growth that can extend to the pupil and block vision. Severest pterygium cases require surgery.

Reason three: cataracts.

More than 22 million Americans have cataracts. And I know you don’t want to join their ranks. Your risk increases if you have a family history or diabetes, smoking, or long-term steroid use. But UV exposure ranks as one of the most serious risk factors.

Reason four: Macular degeneration.

As I’ve said, this is the most common cause of blindness in people 55 and over. If you live in a region that’s sunny year-round and don’t wear proper sunglasses, UV damage can reach the retina at the back of the eyeball. When damage occurs in the center of the retina, deterioration begins at the center of the field of vision and slowly expands.

And here’s a bonus reason to wear sunglasses daily: The price is right.

In addition to shopping for lenses that are reliable UV-absorbers, a wraparound frame does a much better job of filtering out UV than glasses with smaller frames and lenses.

But you don’t have to go with the chunky frame look. Along with normal frames, a baseball cap will reduce glare from above. But glare from below can be a problem if you’re regularly out in full sunlight on a surface covered with snow, concrete, or sand.

These surfaces can create a powerful glare. That’s when the oversized frames are especially useful.

But I still think I will pass on the gold lame jogging suit.

“Prevent Eye Damage — Protect Yourself from UV Radiation” Environmental Protection Agency,

“Sunglasses Rival Lotions as Vital for Safety” Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News, 8/20/10,

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