May 17, 2012 -- With summer nearly upon us, our sunglass habits could use improvement, according to a new report issued today by The Vision Council, an industry group.
While 73% of adults do wear sunglasses, only 58% of them make their children wear shades, too, the report found.
More than half of us lose or break our sunglasses every year. More than a quarter of us never bother to wear them, despite benefits to eye health.
"A substantial proportion of people still do not understand that UV exposure is harmful to the eyes as well as the skin," says Paul Michelson, MD, an ophthalmologist in La Jolla, Calif., and chairman of the Better Vision Institute, the medical advisory arm to The Vision Council.
"Even those who do understand, few understand it is the cumulative exposure that can be damaging," says Michelson, the former section chief of ophthalmology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.
"The good news is, some people wear sunglasses some of the time," Michelson says. "The bad news is, not enough people wear them enough of the time."
It's never too early, Michelson tells WebMD, to put sunglasses on kids. And it's never too late to begin wearing them, he adds.
The report is titled "Finding Your Shades, Protecting Your Vision." Besides tracking sunglass-wearing habits, it lists the long- and short-term effects of UV exposure and lists U.S. cities by UV exposure levels.
Sunglass Habits: The Survey
For the survey, The Vision Council polled 10,000 adults from across the country. Barely 1 in 6 said eye health was the reason for wearing sunglasses. Many more, two-thirds, said the purpose was to prevent glare.
The researchers found a variety of reasons why people do not wear sunglasses. Among them:
- Nearly half simply forget.
- About 14% lose or break sunglasses often.
- About 20% don't believe their eyes are at risk from sun exposure.
UV Eye Exposure & Health Problems
UV exposure can cause short-term and long-term effects on eye health. People with blue eyes are more at risk for UV damage than those with brown eyes, experts say.
After a long day at the beach, eyes may seem bloodshot, swollen, and light-sensitive.
Sunburn of the eye, or photokeratitis, is one effect. It's also known as ''snow blindness," as it happens to skiers, too.
In severe cases, it can cause loss of vision for up to 48 hours, according to the report.
Long-term, excess UV exposure can cause a variety of eye problems, including:
- "Surfer's eye," also known as pterygium: This abnormal but usually benign growth on the eye's surface can itch, swell, and become irritated. Surgery can be done to remove it, but it can come back.
- Cataracts: The progressive clouding of the lens of the eye.
- Age-related macular degeneration: The macula is at the back of the eye, in the middle of the retina. Damage to the nerve cell in the macula can dull colors and blur fine detail in your vision.
- Cancer of the eye, eyelid, or nearby skin.
UV Radiation, City by City
Some cities have more total days per year with a high UV Index. The index is the amount of radiation expected to reach the earth's surface when the sun is highest in the sky.
It is calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service.They offer UV projections for about 60 cities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
The top five, and their total days of extreme and very high risk UV exposure:
- San Juan, Puerto Rico, with 286 days
- Honolulu, 253
- Miami, 201
- Tampa Bay, 171
- New Orleans, 163
Sunglass Report: Perspective
"What was really surprising was that more than 20% of the respondents do not believe they are at risk [for eye problems] due to UV exposure," says Anne Sumers, MD, an ophthalmologist in Ridgewood, N.J. She reviewed the findings for WebMD.
To persuade people to adopt the sunglasses habit, she focuses not on long-term health risks from UV exposure, such as cataracts, but on short-term benefits.
"A good pair of sunglasses will help you find your golf ball," she tells her patients. They will help prevent sunburned eyes at the beach or while skiing, she says. "They will protect your eyes while mountain biking."
For younger patients, she reminds them that wearing sunglasses will cut down on wrinkles and crows' feet around their eyes.
Tips: Shopping for Sunglasses
It's not necessary to buy expensive sunglasses, Michelson says. More important, he says, is to choose a pair that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Both types can damage vision.
Look for a label that also says the sunglasses meet ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards, he says.
Be sure the glasses are comfortable, Michelson says. "Get sunglasses that you feel you look good in, so you will wear them."
Consider buying several pairs, Sumers says. Keep some in the car, some in a purse, some in your golf bag. They are more likely to be there when you need them, she says.