Not All Sunglasses Are Created Equally

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Harrisburg, Pa. (May 12, 2014) - The "polar vortex" can't stop summer from arriving sooner or later. As the warm weather approaches, many Americans will shed their winter clothes for shorts, sandals, and most importantly, sunglasses. While many base their eyewear purchases off what is fashionable, the most critical factor to keep in mind is making sure sunglasses provide adequate protection from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation, which comes from the sun (and tanning beds), can cause harm to not only skin, but also eyes.

According to the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2014 American Eye-Q® survey, 41 percent of consumers do not check the UV protection level before making a purchase. Only 30 percent of Americans said UV protection was the most important factor when buying sunglasses, ahead of glare reduction/comfortable vision (27 percent), style (15 percent), price (14 percent) and fit (9 percent).

Harmful effects of long-term exposure to UV rays are a real concern because it can cause damage to the eye, possibly resulting in cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, or an abnormal growth called Pterygium that is also known as "surfer's eye."

Short-term exposure to UV rays can be just as serious as long-term exposure. For example, a day at the beach could lead to a condition known as photokeratitis, which is also known as "sunburn of the eye," and leaves victims with red eyes, a foreign-body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, and/or excessive tearing. These symptoms are usually temporary and rarely cause permanent damage to the eyes, but patients should consult with their eye doctor if they experience these side effects to be sure overexposure is the only problem with their eyes.

Children Need Protection

The average child takes in approximately three times the annual UV exposure of the average adult and up to 80 percent of their lifetime exposure occurs before age 20. The lens found in a child's eye cannot filter out UV rays as easily as an adult eye can, which causes damage to the retina.

UV rays affect people of all ages, but it is critical for children to protect their eyes since they are more transparent than an adult's. By protecting eyes early, UV damage can be avoided.

What to Look for in Lenses and Frames

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA) recommends wearing sunglasses or contact lenses that offer appropriate UV protection for optimal eye sun-safety. It is also helpful to wear a hat that keeps direct sunlight off of the face and away from the eyes. The POA also recommends:

  • Lenses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays
  • Lenses that have a uniform tint, not darker in one area from another (Gradient lenses should lighten gradually with the bottom being lightest.)
  • Lenses that are free of distortion and imperfection
  • A frame that fits close to the eyes and contours to the shape of the face, in order to prevent exposure to UV radiation from all sides, even behind
  • Prescription glasses with tints and full UV protection (Some contact lenses also offer UV protection, but these should be worn with sunglasses to maximize protection.)
  • Staying out of the sun during the peak UV exposure risk hours for the eyes, from 8 to 10 AM and from 2 to 4 PM

The POA suggests the use of a number of lens and frame options that can enhance vision for particular activities, such as:


  • Polarized lenses, which reduce reflected glare from sunlight that bounces off snow or water and add comfort and enhance vision when cross-country skiing, fishing or driving
  • "Blue-blocking" lenses help make distant objects easier to see, especially in snow or haze, which is great for skiers, boaters and hunters
  • Polycarbonate lenses to provide impact protection, an important option for potentially hazardous work, sports and other activities
  • Photochromic (transition) lenses that offer convenience since the lens darkens or lightens depending on the light exposure


Yearly comprehensive eye exams are the best way to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep up to date on the latest in UV protection. To find an optometrist in your area or for additional information on how to protect your eyes from UV radiation, please visit

About the survey:

The eighth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From March 15-18, 2013 using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level)

About the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA):

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association is the professional organization for over 1,250 doctors of optometry in Pennsylvania. An affiliate of the American Optometric Association, POA promotes the highest quality eye and vision care by optometrists, represents optometry to state government, provides its members with post-graduate education and membership benefits, and conducts activities in the interest of the visual welfare of the public. For more information, visit

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Prior to optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students is extensive and covers a wide variety of advanced health, science and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit