Glaucoma - Protect Your Vision from the Sun

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Dr. Diane Bovenkamp

This audio presentation provides information for all people—and especially people who already have eye problems—on how to protect their eyes from the ultraviolet light in sunshine.

  • Catherine Jimenez: Hi, I'm Catherine Jimenez, and I'm with the BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization leading the fight to save sight and mind. Today we're talking with Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, science communication specialist for the BrightFocus foundation about protecting your vision in the sun. There really are misconceptions out there when it comes to staying safe. Diane will help us learn more about this important topic. Hello, Diane, could you tell us what we should know about protecting our vision from the sun?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: Well, Catherine, everyone, and especially people who already have eye problems should protect their eyes from the ultraviolet or UV light in sunshine. UV light is what causes sunburn, but it also contributes to the formation of cataracts and to macular degeneration. Since the effects are cumulative, the more exposed your eyes are to UV rays, the higher the danger of damage to the cornea, retina and lens. Unfortunately, the thinning of the earth’s ozone layer has reduced its function as a UV filter, so it is now more dangerous than ever to eyes and skin to spend unprotected hours in the sun. Luckily, proper eyewear can provide significant protection.

    Catherine: So what should we have in our sunglasses?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: Wear high quality sunglasses with a rating of 99 or 100% UVA and UVB protection and please check the label when buying non prescription lenses. If you aren't sure but the quality of your sunglasses ask your eye care provider or optician to check their protection level. If you purchase prescription lenses, be sure to ask about including protection against UV radiation which can be tinted for be colorless.

    Catherine: Why would someone do that instead of just purchasing prescription sunglasses?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: That is another option but it may be more affordable and consider adding UV protection to glasses you're wearing all the time. Contact lenses may provide some protection too but only to the part of the eye they actually cover so sunglasses should still be worn .If you wanted to your lenses, grey colored lenses provide the most natural colors while lenses tinted amber may boost your vision of it by creating greater contrast. However, Amber lenses can also make it harder to distinguish traffic light colors, which may make gray lens is more desirable for some individuals. Large lenses are better than small ones and wrap around lenses or even better since UV rays can enter the eyeball from the sides above and below.

    Catherine: Diane How do I know if my lenses as a proper size?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: Well Catherine, the lenses of your glasses shouldn't allow sunlight to reach your eyes so they should cover your entire eye. Other options are polarized are mirrored lenses, while polarized lenses reduced glare, make sure they're coated to make them UV protective as well. Mirrored lenses don't necessarily block UV light, so make sure they are marked as UV protective.

    Catherine: Should sunglasses only be worn on sunny days?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: It's best to wear your sunglasses as often as possible. An example of how important this is: Clouds don't block ultraviolet light, so wear your sunglasses. Even on cloudy or overcast days. Eye protection is especially important at the beach or in the snow. Did you know water and sand reflects an increase the intensity of UV rays from 10 to 20%. While snow can reflect up to 80%. 40% of UV rays can be detected two feet below the surface of water. So be aware when you are swimming. Children and teens should wear sunglasses too especially since they may spend more time in the sun and sun damage to the eyes and the skin is cumulative over time. Over three quarters of our exposure to UV rays occurs before the age of 18.

    Catherine: Other than sunglasses are there any other ways that we can protect ourselves for?

    Dr. Bovenkamp: Sure wear a wide brimmed hat as often as possible when you're outdoors. In addition to lowering your risk of eye diseases, hats can help shield your face and neck for skin cancers can form so don't forget to apply your sunblock or sunscreen.

    Catherine: Thanks for talking to us today. Diane. I certainly learned some things that I didn't know.

    Dr. Bovenkamp: Thanks for inviting me Catherine.

    Catherine: Thank you Diane for this very helpful information. And thanks everyone for listening. Stay tuned for future podcasts on topics related to vision. For more information about macular degeneration or glaucoma or to get involved in advancing research to me I diseases visit or call 1-800-437-2423. Thanks again everyone.

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