Aussies have by now swapped their summer wardrobe for scarves and woolly coats as the temperature drops. But before you rush to pack away your sunglasses, it’s important to consider the harmful impact UV rays can have on the eyes, even in the cooler months.
Research conducted by Optometry Australia for the 2020 Vision Index found a whopping 76 per cent of Australians think it is unnecessary to wear sunglasses during the winter months; whilst almost one in 10 Australians do not know UV protective sunglasses exist.
Just because the sun is behind the clouds, it doesn’t mean we should forget about protecting our eyes, especially when a staggering 90 per cent of the sun’s UV rays can filter through even the thickest cloud cover. So, while we may not be able to see the sun on cold and gloomy days, it’s there and so too are its damaging UV rays.
During autumn and winter, the sun is at a lower level on the horizon leaving us exposed to UV rays. Right through the cooler winter months, UV levels are three or above in Australia, putting our eyes at risk of short term or permanent damage - including cataracts, pterygium and photokeratitis.
Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in the world and affect 10 per cent of Australians. Usually developing with age, one fifth of cataracts are caused or made worse by UV exposure. You are able to reduce the risk of cataracts by wearing UV protected sunglasses year round.
Pterygium, commonly known as Surfer's Eye, is a fleshy growth that can invade the cornea and disfigures the eye. The majority of Australians (74 per cent) have not heard of this eye condition, although one in 100 Australians will develop it at some stage in their life. It is caused by exposure to the sun’s UV rays and is easily avoidable by wearing sunglasses whilst outdoors. Eye drops or ointments may help soothe the inflammation of pterygium, and in some more severe cases patients do undergo surgery.
Photokeratitis is sunburn of the cornea and is a result of overexposure to UV rays. Common symptoms of photokeratitis include burning and red eyes, headaches and halos around light. Typically photokeratitis can be healed by itself over a couple of days however wearing UV protected sunglasses goes a long way in preventing it.
All three of these eye conditions can be easily avoided by wearing proper, high level UV protected sunglasses year-round. Sunglasses with a category two or higher of UV protection is optimal as these lenses are able to absorb 95 per cent of UV radiation.
So next time you step outside, remember, just because it is chilly and cloudy doesn’t mean you don’t need your sunglasses.
If you are experiencing changes to your vision or are concerned about your eyesight, visit your local optometrist for expert advice.