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WHAT’S YOUR UV IQ?

Shedding light on eye protection

We know how harmful ultraviolet light can be to our skin, but did you know that ultraviolet light and some wavelengths of blue light can also harm our eyes and possibly lead to vision loss? Our eyes require daily protection from the hazardous effects of both visible and non-visible wavelengths of light, particularly UV light and certain wavelengths of high-energy blue-violet light.

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Ultraviolet (UV) light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that originates primarily from the sun but can be found in other artificial light sources such as black lights, tanning booths, and some types of lasers. We can see our skin’s reaction to UV exposure when it tans or reddens. With overexposure, freckles, sunspots, and even skin cancer can develop. Although it’s harder to detect, UV exposure can also be dangerous to the eyes. Excessive exposure to UV light without proper protection can lead to cataracts. It can also cause a sunburn on the cornea of the eye known as photokeratitis, which can lead to temporary blindness.

High energy visible (HEV) blue light wavelengths are part of the electromagnetic visible light spectrum emitted by the sun and artificial light sources such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), computers and smartphones, and fluorescent light bulbs. Although some types of blue light can be beneficial and help regulate our bodies’ sleep-wake cycles, recent studies have shown that when high-energy blue light passes from the cornea (front of the eye) through the lens to the retina (back of the eye), it can have a harmful impact on the eyes. HEV blue light is a risk factor for retinal damage and age-related macular degeneration, a deterioration of the part of the retina responsible for maintaining fine detail, color, and central vision.

“The best UV protection for your eyes is 100 percent UVA and UVB protection,” says David Dumangas-Klehr, the owner of Be Seen Optics in La Jolla. “You want that for all your sunglasses because when you wear sunglasses, your pupils open very wide allowing UVA and UVB radiation in. All sunglasses should have that protection, but you can also get it in your prescription glasses as well. Some prescription lenses will automatically have it. It’s a byproduct of the material that is used.”

When it comes to polarized lenses, don’t assume that yours offer UV protection. “Polarized lenses will block surface glare,” David explains. “For example, when you are on the water and rays from the sun bounce off the water, polarized lenses prevent the rays from blinding you and make everything nice and clear. Be sure your polarized lenses have UV protection to protect your eyes from damage.”

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The only way to know if your sunglasses have proper UV coverage is to consult with an eye care professional. Be Seen Optics has a full scope, California-licensed optometrist on staff. The shop also features a machine that determines the percentage of UVA and UVB protection in a pair of glasses, and all the sunglasses they carry offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. 

One of the best ways to care for your eyes is to see an optometrist for annual exams. They look for signs of cataracts, macular degeneration, sun damage, skin and eye cancers, and other eye conditions affected by UV and blue light exposure. An optometrist can also prescribe lenses to optimize vision, digital device viewing, and sun protection.