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What are sunglasses really doing for your eyes?

Are sunglasses just another stylish accessory or are they the key to good eye health?

“There’s definitely a fashion element to sunglasses that people look for, but there are health benefits to wearing sunglasses as well,” says Elliot Levine, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Piedmont.

The most important benefit of wearing sunglasses is that they protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light can have harmful effects on the eyelid, cornea, lens and retina.

When to wear your shades

Do you only wear sunglasses on sunny summer days? If so, you’re doing your eyes a disservice. Sunglasses are necessary year-round says Dr. Levine.

“Whether it’s winter or summer, cloudy or sunny, you’re always subject to ultraviolet exposure,” he says.

Eye protection is especially important if you’re on or near a body of water.

“Not only do you get direct sun exposure, but you also get reflected light from the water,” he says.

Snow can also reflect sunlight, so if you’re hitting the ski slopes this winter, don’t forget your sunglasses. Excessive UV exposure can lead to a corneal burn.

What to look for when choosing sunglasses

Dr. Levine says there are several details you should consider for when selecting a new pair of shades:

  • 100 percent UV protection. This means your pair will filter out all of the harmful UV rays that can damage your eyes.
  • A wraparound style. They can reduce the amount of UV exposure to your eyes.
  • Polarization. This optional feature reduces glare, which can be more comfortable for your eyes.
  • Tinting. The color of your sunglasses is purely cosmetic, says Dr. Levine, so choose a pair that best suits your taste. Just be sure they are labeled as having 100 percent UV protection.

The beauty benefit of sunglasses

 Sunglasses also help protect delicate skin around the eyes from aging.

“Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin on our body and it’s more at risk for sunlight damage,” he says.

Price point doesn’t matter

Should great shades cost a fortune? Dr. Levine says no.

“You can get good glasses for $5 or you can get glasses that are much more expensive,” he says.

The biggest difference between inexpensive and high-end sunglasses? More expensive versions have better frames, he says.

“Less expensive glasses may not be as cosmetically appealing; however, as long as there is 100 percent ultraviolet protection, that’s the most important thing.”

Have questions about your eye health? Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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