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Stay on top of seasonal eye care! Here’s why keeping your eyes safe from the sun should be top priority when it’s not beach season.
Sunglasses and summer go together like baseball and hot dogs. But sunglasses and winter?
Not so obvious. But making this connection is essential to preserving the health of your eyes, says Heather Klatt, director of operations at National Vision, Inc., the parent company of America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.
Even when you can’t see the sun, its harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays have little trouble finding your eyes. Sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection have been shown to help prevent or delay many age-related eye diseases, including macular degeneration and cataracts—two leading causes of blindness.
Plus, sunglasses just look cool.
Need more convincing? Check out Klatt’s other top reasons why winter is the best time to buy new sunnies.
Eye Care Reason #1: Winter Sun Can Scorch
Even though the days are shorter and the sun sits lower in the sky in the colder months, don’t get lulled into a false sense of safety. UVB rays, the type that tan your skin, are less intense during the winter. But UVA rays, which are just as dangerous, come at us with the same intensity year-round.
In fact, since the sun sits lower on the horizon, your UVA-exposure risk is actually higher during the winter if you spend a lot of time in your car, because the sun never rises high enough to be blocked by your roof.
“If there’s snow on the ground,” adds Klatt, “the glare will be even worse when you’re driving or walking, because the snow bounces the rays toward your eyes.”
Eye Care Reason #2: Snow Blindness Is a Real Thing
Speaking of the fluffy stuff, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays—more than doubling your normal exposure. Yet a study in the Archives of Dermatology found that most skiers and snowboarders only occasionally think about protecting their eyes (and skin) when they’re on the mountain.
Closer to home, if you spend a long afternoon building snowmen with your kiddos without a good pair of sunglasses or goggles, there’s a chance you can burn your eyes. The medical term for this is photokeratitis, and it’s no joke. Your eyes can temporarily swell and become ridiculously watery. You might even experience blurry vision. But here’s the thing: You probably won’t realize something’s up while you’re out there having fun. Think about the last time you got a sunburn at the beach. You couldn’t tell your skin was baking until you got home and realized you could barely lift your arms. Snow blindness has the same sneaky pattern.
Eye Care Reason #3: Cold Weather Does Its Own Number on Eyes
Winter’s low humidity and cold winds can stir up dry eye symptoms, including a stinging sensation and extra tears, according to experts at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
The natural moisture barrier in your eyes isn’t always enough to combat steep drops in temperature and blasts of dry air. A good pair of sunglasses—especially wraparound styles that give you protection on the sides—can shoulder some of that responsibility and help you avoid vision problems, says Klatt.
Eye Care Reason #4: Sneaky Factors Make Your Eyes More Sun-Sensitive
Sometimes there are things beyond your control that increase your need to protect your eyes from the sun:
You’ve had cataract surgery. Newer versions of the intraocular lens that replaces your natural lens during this procedure do block some UV rays from penetrating eye tissues, but sunglasses are recommended as an added layer of protection.
You’re being treated for age-related macular degeneration. One of the treatments, photodynamic therapy, makes your eyes more sensitive to UV light.
You’re taking certain medications. Antibiotics, psoriasis medications, birth control and estrogen pills, and acne meds, to name a few, are known as photosensitizing drugs. They contain ingredients that make your eyes more sensitive to UV light.
You have light-colored eyes. Studies show that the combination of light irises and unprotected UV exposure may increase the risk of certain eye cancers, according to the AAO.
Ready to pick out a pair of new sunglasses? Be sure to look for lenses that boast 100% UVA and UVB protection. The AAO says that fewer than half of people buying sunglasses bother to check whether the lenses will protect their eyes from UV light.