Ultraviolet rays from the sun may be one of the leading causes of skin cancer, but many do not realize it can be harmful to one of the most important of all organs-your eyes.
Dr. Gordon Wuebbolt of Community Eye Care said that exposure to UV light can increase the possibility of a person developing many eye problems, including cataracts and macular degeneration.
According to the Web site for the Pennsylvania Optometric Association, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in America. It is caused by gradual changes to the macula, or the part of the eye that allows for clear, sharp vision.
Though unprotected exposure to UV light can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration, Wuebbolt said it is not really known how much exposure can cause the development of either.
According to a press release from the POA and the American Optometric Association, another possible problem linked with UV exposure to eyes, is sunburn.
The POA's Web site reported that sunburn of the eyes usually results with painful, red eyes with a gritty feeling, excessive tearing and sensitivity to light. While sunburn can be painful, it is temporary and usually doesn't cause permanent damage.
While the majority of UV rays come from the sun, they also come from artificial places like tanning beds, lasers and welding equipment.
Wuebbolt said "welder's flash" or the UV light from welding equipment is another cause of eye problems.
He said with unprotected exposure to the flash, the light can damage the cornea and the skin around the eye.
Like sunburn, Wuebbolt said this causes a lot of discomfort but no permanent damage.
Wuebbolt said the main source of protection is a transparent UV filter that is found in most sunglasses, as well as prescription glasses.
He said the filter is usually pretty cheap to make, so it is easy to find it in glasses and contact lenses, but it is still a good idea to check.
The AOA reported that only 49 percent of Americans say UV protection was the most important factor when buying sunglasses. Usually price and style are what they consider first.
"A very cheap pair of sunglasses can have great protection," Wuebbolt said.
He said price does not usually have a lot to do with the amount of UV protection, but usually the tinting.
Wuebbolt said dark-tinted sunglasses offer very little UV protection, but yellow-tinted glasses offer a little more.
However, Wuebbolt said regardless of tinting, the UV filter offers the most protection.
"When buying glasses, you have to look and see how much UV it blocks," he said,
Wuebbolt said the amount of UV protection should be on the label of the glasses and is best in the upper 90s, very close to 100.
In addition to protecting your eyes, Wuebbolt said sunglasses also help to protect the exposed, extremely sensitive skin around the eyes.
All in all, just as sunscreen protects your skin this summer, sunglasses will protect your eyes.