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Healthy Aging > aging well

Are You Protecting Your Eyes?

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/14/2015
Last Updated: 04/14/2015

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Yesterday reminded me of why I love the sun so much. After an endless winter where the sun's warming effects felt minimal, the sun was finally out in full force. Its delightful warmth and light were just what I needed to restore my hope and remind me that warmer weather was finally within reach.

I craned my neck up toward the heat—and then I was suddenly reminded that in addition to worshipping the sun, we must also fear it.

The sun giveth, yet it also taketh away.

Lots of us know to protect our skin from exposure to the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays, those invisible ultraviolet rays that cause sunburns and, in some cases, skin cancers. But what many people fail to realize is that the sun can also damage their eyes.

This damage can occur anytime during the year—not just when the sun feels hot. In addition, a cloudy day is no insurance that the sun won't harm: its rays can easily pass through haze and even thin clouds.

I'm not just talking about that premature wrinkling in the skin surrounding your eyes, but things of a much more serious nature: vision loss, cataracts, macular degeneration and eye and eyelid cancers. Why do these things occur? Skin on the eyelid is thin and fragile, easily damaged by UV light. Sure, the lens and cornea inside the eye can filter UV rays, but over time the absorption of the rays can be damaging, and that damage is cumulative, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.

Although everyone is at risk, people with fair skin and light eyes have to be especially vigilant, because they have an increased long-term risk.

What you can do to protect your eyes:

  • Wear sunglasses that absorb or block UV rays—and wear them year-round, even on overcast days.
  • To ensure you can see traffic signals (dark lenses may interfere with color recognition), check to see if the lenses meet ANSI and/or ISO standards.
  • Lenses that are neutral gray, green or brown offer the most comfortable vision.
  • Lenses that can absorb and block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light provide the best protection. Ideally they should also protect against HEV light (high-energy visible light in the violet/blue spectrum). HEV light may contribute to cataracts and can also damage the retina over time, leading to macular degeneration.
  • Always check the labels or packaging to make sure you're getting the proper protection.
  • As for size, make sure the glasses are large enough to cover your eyes, eyelids and surrounding areas. The best protection comes from wraparound styles that fit close to the face and contain UV-protective side shields.
  • To minimize or eliminate glare in the water or snow, or while driving, look for polarized lenses.
  • Eat right. Lutein and zeaxanthin, primarily found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale and orange and yellow-colored fruits and veggies, have been found to help support the health of your eyes. Vitamins C and E, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in eye health. Other eye-healthy foods include corn, collards, green peas, papaya, grapefruit, almonds, pecans, vegetable oils and egg yolks.

You might also want to read:
10 Tips for Protecting Your Eyes
Protect Your Eyes From the Sun
The Unsafe Way to Wear Eyeliner


I've always tried to follow what you write about in your post. Even on cloudy days I sometimes wear sunglasses. My eyesight is bad enough, and I've read that people with lighter colored eyes have more issues seeing well in the sunlight. So protecting my eyes? A given.

Wearing sunglasses is especially important for those of us with blue eyes. I'm almost guaranteed to get cataracts since both my parents had them, so I wear sunglasses every single time I am outside. Great advice in this piece. I didn't know there were lenses that were better at letting color through.

Such an important topic. I cringe when I see the cheap sunglasses knowing there is no protection and that they might be causing more damage than even going without sunglasses at all.

This is such important information. I just started following these rules a few years ago after having a lot of trouble with my eyes. They are so much better now.
Thank you for sharing.

So much sunshine in Colorado all year. Definitely important to wear good sunglasses. I might get a new fancy pair for summer, but the last time I bought nice ones, I promptly lost them.

So important (she says, knowing she will one day need cataract surgery due to too much sun and too few sunglases back in the day)

Living in a place where there is strong sunlight and clear skies nearly every day, and is also the skin cancer capital of the world, I have to applaud you for writing this. It is so important! I have my prescription sunglasses with me all the time. Also incredibly important to have a thorough, good quality exam every year. Last year they found that I was at risk of developing narrow angle glaucoma. Laser surgery fixed that. Don't neglect your eyes!

I must ALWAYS wear sunglasses when outside, as my eyes are super sensitive. Even on gray days or snowy ones, I'm lost without my shades. Thank you for more detailed info on why it's so important to keep the sunglasses handy. I may now change my black-lensed ones for gray or green (or better yet, rose colored!).

Great tips for sure and a very important to protect your eyes. I only wear sunglasses with polarized lenses. Thanks much for the info!

great info. I always make sure to wear sunglasses this time of year.

We forget how important it is to protect your eyes, but so many older people are having trouble with their vision, and a lot of it's preventable.

I always wear sunglasses, but I'm going to think more about eye nutrition.


Thanks for this timely reminder, Sheryl. Most of us don't lie out in the sun and bake the way we used to -- but protecting your eyes is easy to forget.

You've convinced me. I'm heading for Costco now that I know what to look for in a pair of sunglasses.

Very nice tips to protect eyes. I always wear sunglasses when I have to go out in the sun. Thanks for sharing this informative post.


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