Though it’s taken a while to really settle in, spring is finally here in the city of Pittsburgh. With a new season starting up – and summer vacations not too far off into the future – now is the time to do a little “spring cleaning” of your personal care habits, particularly ones that can benefit the health of your eyes.

Brushing up on forgotten habits is especially important now as we’re preparing to spend more time outside and enjoying the spring and summer weather. As we move outdoors, we’re increasing our levels of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Unfortunately, without taking preventative measures, this exposure could spell trouble for your eyes later in life.

What Does UV Light Have To Do With My Eyes?

Long-term or overexposure to UV light can increase your risk of developing several different eye diseases, including cataracts, macular degeneration, growths on the eye, and even cancer. And there’s more bad news for Pittsburgh residents: your level of exposure to UV light isn’t dependent on direct sunlight. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds - meaning that even in our cloudy city, UV exposure can always affect our eyes and vision.

Fortunately, simply investing in the proper protective accessories is all it takes to reduce your eyes’ exposure to UV light. Current recommendations, as laid out by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, are to wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses whenever you spend lengthy periods of time outdoors.

 A good rule of thumb is to wear your hats and sunglasses if you’re spending enough time outside to get a suntan or sunburn. An even better rule of thumb, of course, is to always wear them when you head out of your house – just in case you spend a little more time outside than you thought you would. It’s also important to wear sunglasses if you’re around water, snow or even sand during your spring and summer travels; UV light can reflect off of these surfaces, meaning that a hat alone won’t provide full protection for your eyes in these environments.

How Do I Choose The Best Sunglasses For My Eyes?

Even if you already own a pair of sunglasses, you may need to invest in a better set this year if you want to protect your eyes from UV exposure. Much like sunscreen, not all sunglasses block UV lights as effectively as others; currently, the best sunglasses you can purchase have a transmission factor of only 10% – 30% (meaning that no more than 10 – 30% of sunlight reaches your eyes).

The good news is that well-made sunglasses are often relatively inexpensive; in fact, designer sunglasses – though more expensive than regular sunglasses – are less likely to offer the protection your eyes need. To ensure that your sunglasses are the best they can be, always read the label that comes with them to see what they do – and don’t – do. Aim to buy a pair that protects your eyes from both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA and UVB) radiation; if the label on a pair of sunglasses doesn’t list these items, you’ll want to find a pair that offers protection from those elements.

Another important point to remember is to never assume that darker sunglasses will protect your eyes, as lens color really means nothing in terms of effective UV protection; in fact, darker sunglasses that aren’t made with proper UV blocking materials are worse for your eyes, as their darker tints increase the dilation of your eyes and therefore increase the UV exposure your eyes receive. At the end of the day, your best option is to buy a pair that fits you comfortably and which clearly lists UVA and UVB protection on their sales card.

Protect Your Eyes Now For Better Eye Health Tomorrow

With the spring season here and summer on the horizon, now is the time to upgrade your hats and sunglasses to ensure that they’re reducing your eyes’ exposure to UV rays. Even if you think you don’t need hats or sunglasses, it’s important to invest in these protective tools and to use them now, while your eyes are still healthy. Remember: our eyes, like our skin, are put at an increased risk of developing problems every time we expose them to UV light. Our staff members would rather see you wearing your hats and sunglasses now than see your eyes developing problems later in life. If you have questions about determining the best protective accessories for your own eyes, you’re welcome to talk to your own doctor - particularly if you have any special vision needs.

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