They may be great fashion accessories but, more importantly, sunglasses are of extreme importance when it comes to maintaining good eye health.

Dr. Kerry Beebe, O.D., gives his patients two reasons – health and comfort — when explaining why they should wear sunglasses.

“From a health standpoint, you want to keep all ultraviolet light from getting into your eyes and onto the lids and the skin around them,” said Beebe, of the Brainerd Eye Care Center in Brainerd, Minn. “From a comfort standpoint, some people are very sensitive to brightness and glare. By cutting down brightness and glare, people will visually perform better and be more comfortable.”

Beebe said sunglasses protect the eyes from painful sunburns and may help slow down cataracts and macular degeneration. Also, the skin around the eyes, including the lids, is one of the most prone to skin cancer.

“So certainly protecting the skin around the eyes with UV-filtering sunglasses is a good way to prevent skin cancer in that area,” he said.

From a comfort standpoint, polarized lenses are the most effective lenses for blocking glare. However, they can be inhibitive to people playing outdoor sports like golf.

People should always look for sunglasses that block out 99 percent of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, said Beebe. Although buying sunglasses from a doctor’s office is the best guarantee of getting a pair of sunglasses that are effective in protecting eyes from ultraviolet rays, some low-cost sunglasses are now carrying optometric “seals of acceptance,” which guarantee their effectiveness.

“You don’t necessarily have to have the expensive glasses to block out UV rays,” Beebe said. “A lot of times the expense comes from the quality of the frames and the optics of the lens. Some lenses are optically ground and are much more distortion free than other glasses that have more of pressed lens where there may be more distortion.”

Reasons to Wear Sunglasses

1.) UV Protection. The sun's UV radiation can cause cataracts; benign growths on the eye's surface; and photokeratitis, sometimes called snow blindness, which is a temporary but painful sunburn of the eye's surface. Wide-brimmed hats and caps can block about 50 percent of UV radiation from the eyes but optometrists say that is not enough protection.

2.) Blue-Light Protection. Long-term exposure to the blue and violet portion of the solar spectrum has been implicated as a risk factor for macular degeneration, especially for individuals that are “sun sensitive.”

3.) Comfortable vision. The sun's brightness and glare interferes with comfortable vision and the ability to see clearly by causing people to squint and the eyes to water.

4.) Dark adaptation. Spending just two or three hours in bright sunlight can hamper the eyes' ability to adapt quickly to nighttime or indoor light levels. This can make driving at night after spending a day in the sun more hazardous.

5.) Skin Cancer. Cancer of the eyelids and skin around the eyes is more common than people think. People should wear sunglasses outdoors whether they are working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, running errands or doing anything in the sun.

Five Tips for Healthy Eyes

1.) Wear protective eyewear any time your eyes are exposed to UV light, even on cloudy days and during winter months.

2.) Look for quality sunglasses that offer good protection. Sunglasses should block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.

3.) Check to make sure your sunglass lenses are perfectly matched in color and free of distortions and imperfections.

4.) Purchase gray-colored lenses. They reduce light intensity without altering the color of objects, providing the most natural color vision.

5.) Don’t forget protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults.

Source: American Optometric Association

This article was reviewed by Dr. Manny Alvarez