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Macular Degeneration - Protect Your Eyes 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.

  • Katherine JimenezHi, I’m Katherine Jimenez, and I’m with the BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization leading the fight to save sight and mind.

    Today, we are talking with Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, Science Communications Specialist for the BrightFocus Foundation, about protecting your vision in the sun.

    There really are misconceptions out there when it comes to sun safety. 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. Diane Bovenkamp: Well Katherine—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.

    Katherine Jimenez: So what should we have in our sunglasses?

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Wear high-quality sunglasses with a rating of 99- or 100-percent UV-A and UV-B protection. And please check the label when buying non-prescription lenses.  If you aren't sure about the quality of your sunglasses, ask your optometrist 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 or be colorless.

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

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: That is another option. But, it may be more affordable to consider adding UV protection to glasses you'll wear 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 want to tint your lenses, gray-colored lenses provide the most natural colors, while lenses tinted amber may boost your vision a bit by creating greater contrast. However, amber lenses can also make it harder to distinguish traffic-light colors, which may make gray lenses more desirable for some individuals. Large lenses are better than small ones, and wrap-around lenses are even better, since UV rays can enter the eyeball from the sides, above, and below.

    Katherine Jimenez: Diane, how do I know if my lenses are the proper size?

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: The lenses of your glasses shouldn't allow sunlight to reach your eye, so they should cover your entire eye.

    Other options are polarized or mirrored lenses. While polarized lenses reduce glare, make sure they are 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.

    Katherine Jimenez: Should sunglasses only be worn on sunny days?

    Dr. Diane 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 reflect and increase the intensity of UV rays from 10 to 20 percent, while snow can reflect up to 80 percent? 40 percent 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.

    Katherine Jimenez: Other than sunglasses, are there any other ways that we can protect ourselves from the sun?

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

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

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Thanks for inviting me Katherine.

    Katherine Jimenez: 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 end these eye diseases, visit, or call 1-800-437-2423. Thanks again everyone.

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