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Friday, September 6, 2013

UV Eye Tips for Travelers

As a pale gal who grew up in Arizona, I'm well aware of the sun's ability to inflict damage on skin. I'm waiting for my first skin cancer to pop up (and go yearly to the doctor to look for it). But it never occurred to me that UV rays could damage the eyes. Sure, I wear sunglasses when I'm out, but that's for comfort and to prevent myself from squinting (don't want those wrinkles). My kids don't have sunglasses.

I'm rethinking all that now after getting contacted by the Vision Council, a trade organization that represents manufacturers and suppliers in the optical industry. They sponsored a webinar to learn more about the effects of UV rays.

It turns out UV can damage the eyes in the form of long-term age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and cancer of the eye and surrounding skin. In the short term, problems can include photokeratitis (sunburn of the eye), swollen/blood-shot eyes, and hypersensitivity to light. You can learn more here from this Vision Council report.

Interestingly, kids are more prone to UV eye damage because their lenses are still developing.

Just like with sun block, even on cloudy days it's important to wear eye protection, according to the Vision Council. And especially on water, like a boat trip, since water reflects up to 100% of the UV rays. Same as with snow, which reflects up to 85% of the rays. Those at higher altitudes have to be extra careful because the concentration of rays is higher.

Anderson Cooper has become a proponent of eye protection after getting a sunburn on his eyes and temporarily becoming blind while on a boat without glasses, reporting for his show.

San Francisco has the 17th highest UV index in the country, with 163 days of extreme and very high UV risk, even with all that fog.

This baby should be wearing shades, just like mom!
What can you do to protect yourself and your kids?
Wear sunglasses from a reputable store that are certified for UVA/UVB protection. Turns out you can also get UV protected contact lenses, though they don't protect the entire eye. Have your kids help pick out their own shades, so they'll be more likely to wear them.

If you have glasses that you aren't sure about, take them to a professional who can test them with a UV meter. Sunglasses without protection can do you more damage than good, because your pupils will open up more behind the dark lens, allowing in more UV rays. And not all glasses with UV stickers are actually good. Take caution buying them from an unreputable source. Good glasses don't have to be expensive.

Disclosure: the Vision Council compensated me for learning about UV exposure and writing about it. All opinions are my own. Photos are from the Morgue File.

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