We fair-haired or fair-skinned folks have learned to be cautious in our dealings with outdoor activities. The Sun is both our friend and our foe. We learned, sometimes the physically painful way, to protect ourselves from solar radiation.
Exercising caution during outdoor work or play is good sense for everybody, not just redheads or blondes. The most obvious reason is worry about skin disorders like melanoma. There is another reason that is often overlooked by the media and popular culture.
My ophthalmologist told me to be careful about sunburn to the corneas. This was something I’d never heard about until he mentioned it. The doctor said that many people go about their daily outdoor activities without sunglasses. He said that, all things considered, it’s just as important to wear effective sunglasses as it is to protect our skin. This holds true for people of all eye colors and skin types. He claims that about half of the general population fails to regularly wear sunglasses even when they need them most.
I confessed that I rarely wear shades and I often squint or use one of my hands to shield my eyes from glaring sunlight. These are simply habits that I give little or no thought to. Sunglasses have always been too much bother. I’ve tried to cultivate the habit of wearing sunglasses, but I soon revert to the default mode of forgetting.
The ophthalmologist asked if I was taking any prescription meds because many drugs can cause increased light sensitivity. He specified common tetracyclines, sulfa drugs, diuretics, and tranquilizers. I said I don’t take any of those. He asked if I drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, because those do qualify as diuretics. I admitted that I do enjoy coffee each day.
The doctor also noted that my family history includes many relatives who suffered from macular degeneration. My father, and both siblings are noteworthy in this respect.
I was reminded that chronic corneal sunburn can cause immediate and cumulative eye problems. These include macular degeneration and cataracts. The two main ways the Sun can harm our vision are ultraviolet light and HEV or high-energy visible radiation (the kind of brightness that makes us squint).
Even people who wear tinted contact lenses should wear sunglasses because the whole eye and the surrounding skin tissue need protection.
The ophthalmologist recommended that I wear polarized lenses or some other technology that blocks 100-percent of the UV-A and UV-B rays. Wrap-arounds are best. He warned that cheap or fashion-only shades may not block enough UV radiation. In fact, they may cause the pupils to dilate, allowing UV easier access to the corneas.
He said that people can increase the effectiveness of proper sunglasses by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or a baseball type cap to help shield the eyes.
We should not forget to wear sunglasses in the wintertime. The glare of sunlight on snow, magnifies the ultraviolet and HEV light so that it comes at us from all directions, not only from above. The same effect applies to people who enjoy water recreation or who work around bodies of water.
I thanked the good doctor for his advice and assured him that I would make a point of using my sunglasses.