Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sunglasses covering up a sobering health concern

Sunglasses covering up a sobering health concern

Published: Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.

When getting ready to enjoy the outdoors, it’s easy to remember your skincare needs, but don’t forget the sunblock for your eyes – your sunglasses.

An optometrist for Port City Eye Associates in Wilmington, Jason Hendrix’s office is stocked with the latest sunglasses. Regardless of the summer season, Hendrix encourages eye care outdoors year round. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the summer or the spring, you need to protect your eyes in the fall and winter just as much,” Hendrix says.

This is especially imperative for individuals involved in outdoor sports such as boating, golfing, fishing and other fun-in-the-sun activities. Fishermen and those who live much of their lives on or near the water are more prone to cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens, as a result of the glare from the water.

Enter polarized lenses, which fishermen and boaters have been using for years, as they help to reduce the sun’s glare off the water. And there are several other benefits to polarized sunglasses: they allow more light to enter your eyes; improve colors and make details sharper; and, most importantly for those who worry about the later state of their eyes, block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays, the ultraviolet light that can lead to cataracts. (Although less likely than UVB to cause sunburn, UVA penetrates the skin more deeply and is considered the chief culprit behind wrinkling, while UVB is considered the main cause of basal and squamous cell carcinomas as well as a significant cause of melanoma.)

So with polarized lenses becoming more popular, questions are arising on what that means for the average consumer. For instance, are all polarized sunglasses created equal? “An inferior pair of lenses will have fuzz around the lines of an image, whereas a superior pair does not,” Hendrix says. “In addition, higher quality polarized lenses also have an anti-reflective coating on the back of the lens.” Antireflective coating cuts down on glare and relieves eye strain.

Purchasing a pair of sunglasses may seem like a no-brainer, with inexpensive eyewear available in most retail stores and even gas stations. But unfortunately, some of these sunglasses emblazoned with “polarized” or “UV coverage” can leave you guessing. Although most sunglasses, regardless of the price, have some UV shield, Hendrix points out that the levels of UV absorption varies with certain lenses. Plastic lenses can only guard the eyes against 88 percent of UV light. Triacetate lenses only absorb 40 percent of UV rays, whereas polycarbonate lenses (generally only sold at optical stores) have 100 percent UV coverage.

Technical terms aside, does protecting yourself from the sun mean gaudy glasses with no style? “Absolutely not,” Hendrix says. “I think all glasses are very fashion-forward now with all the name brands available.” You can now protect your eyes while looking perfectly put together. Port City Eye Associates offers nine exclusive lines to Wilmington, including Salt Optics, a California-based company supplying stylish sunglasses with premium polarized protection.

A popular product for golfers and seafarers is Maui Jim, showcasing specs polarized for men and women in updated fashion. With saltwater safe frames and the same corrosion- and tarnish-resistant properties as pure titanium, these rimless lightweight lenses are available in unisex designs. Although men and women’s polarized sunglasses vary only on their style, what is good for an adult is not the best bet for a child. Sun damage occurs more often during childhood than during adulthood. Baby Banz, 100-percent UV protected polarized sunglasses with a velcro strap to keep them fastened to your child’s head, ensures the same UVA and UVB rays adults endure are not entering your child’s eyes. Hendrix uses these types of shades for his own children, including his 4-year-old and 18-month-old, whom he says never leave the house without their shades.

If purchasing polarized prescription sunglasses seems too costly for those with eye issues, wearing prescription contact lenses with UV protection along with polarized non-prescription lenses is a cost-effective option. Acuvue brand contact lenses offers the highest level of UV radiation-blocking protection in a contact lenses, absorbing a minimum of 90 percent UVA and 99 percent UVB rays. Contact lense prices vary on quantity and the option of purchasing daily, weekly or monthly disposable lenses. There are numerous websites such as and, which offer price breaks, but all discount contact websites require a prescription from your optometrist. And most optometry offices will meet and even beat online prices.

Another option for eyeglass wearers wanting sun protection along with their prescription are Transitions lenses. The glasses let you keep up with only one pair of glasses whose lenses are clear indoors and at night, and automatically adjust their level of tint to changing light conditions outdoors. At the same time, they block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. (Transitions lenses, though, will not adjust while in a vehicle and will remain clear.)

Just as in your regular check-ups at your dentist or doctor, Hendrix encourages an annual eye exam. Eye issues that are ignored, like dry eye, could be a slight sunburn to the eye or white bumps on the inside of the eye could be pterygiums (pronounced te-rij-e-ums) resulting from chronic UV exposure, often found in farmers and fishermen. Others more susceptible to eye issues are those with lighter colored eyes.

With all the positives with polarization are they any negatives? “I do not want to be blamed for someone’s bad golf score,” Hendrix says. Polarization can disrupt a golfer’s ability to read greens while putting, so Hendrix advises selecting shades like amber or purple lenses.

“So only give me credit if your score decreases,” he says.

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