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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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woman wearing a sun hat

What You Should Never Leave Home Without

Your Health

I don't know about you, but I can never seem to leave the house without a huge pocketbook. And I know it's bad for my neck to carry something so big (which invariably leads to something too heavy), but I just can't help myself. I need the space: wallet, makeup, hairbrush, mints, sunglasses. Even on rainy days. Even on cloudy days, on days when it looks so gray that the world is devoid of color - my sunglasses come along.

No, I'm not hiding behind my glasses. I'm not trying to look all glamour and Hollywood-like. I'm just protecting my eyes.

You see, I have light-colored eyes, and it doesn't take much to irritate them. The slightest glare causes me to squint. What goes with light eyes? Light skin. If sunburns were old boyfriends, I could fill a book with pained, detailed descriptions of each and every one. The stories would be cringe-inducing, trust me.

The eyes, like the skin, can also be damaged by the sun's rays. Those intense UV rays of the sun that are responsible for wrinkles, sun damage and worse can also harm the sensitive cells in your eyes and gradually affect your vision and eventually cause cataracts, which are a leading cause of reduced vision in people over 60. In addition, there are other problems the ultraviolet radiation wreaks upon your eyes: it can cause a rare tumor of the surface of the eye as well as an inflammation of the membrane outside of the eye; tired, sore and gritty eyes, too.

What's more dangerous than this sunlight from the sun itself? It's the reflected light, like the light that bounces off grass, soil, water (not so bad), dry sand (a little worse), sea foam (getting brighter), or fresh snow (the worst of them all). This light, because you're most likely looking down rather than up, bounces back directly into your eyes.

No one is advocating hiding away in the house and missing out on beautiful, bright sunny days. We certainly haven't seen enough of those lately. Instead, do this:

Wear sunglasses - but know they're not all the same.

  • They should limit transmission to more more than 1 percent UVA rays (if they say they block at least 99 percent of the UV rays, that's fine)
  • Make sure the lenses are large enough to completely cover the eye and keep the light from sneaking in around the edges. You know those grandmother-types in Florida we used to make fun of who wear the huge wrap-around sunglasses? Smart ladies, it turns out.
  • Gray lenses provide the least color distortion (although this doesn't mean they protect any better than other colored lenses).

UV-blocking contact lenses can also provide added protection against UV rays, but should be paired with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat as well. Note: not all contact lenses offer UV protection; make sure to check with your eye-care professional, and ask for a lens that has the American Optometric Association Seal of Acceptance for UV-Absorbing contact lenses

After a rainy day when the sun made an unexpected return and pierced my eyes with such brightness I was practically rendered blind, I've learned never to leave my house without my trusty sunglasses. The best thing you can do for yourself is the same, along with a wide-brimmed hat. And oh, don't forget the sunscreen.

PS. Mothers, do the same for your children, please: it's estimated that 80 percent of our lifetime exposure to UV rays happens before age 18. Children's pupils are larger than adult pupils (I'll bet you didn't know that; I certainly didn't!) and more light can get into their eyes as a result. Plus, you can bet they're also spending more time outside than we are, too.

For more on protecting your whole family’s vision and eye health, click here.

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