Photo by Taylor Friehl on Unsplash

Did you know your eyes can get sunburnt, even in winter?

Photo by Taylor Friehl on Unsplash

The cold is here again and winter has begun! As we've now packed away our beach towels and sandals, there is one accessory Australians are being urged to keep handy - their sunglasses.

Optometry Australia’s 2020 Vision Index revealed that over three-quarters of Australians don't think that UV protective sunglasses are necessary for the winter months. This is unfortunately a very harmful misconception, with the eyes susceptible to sunburn year round.

What are UV rays?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is energy emitted by the sun, and here in Australia we have one of the highest levels of exposure in the world.

The sun emits three different kinds of UV radiation:

  • UVA: not absorbed by the ozone layer at all
  • UVB: about 15% of UVB transmits through to the earth’s atmosphere
  • UVC: absorbed by ozone and does not reach the earth’s surface

When concerned with eye damage, we need to be wary of UVA and UVB rays.

Keep in mind that sun damage is still very possible on overcast and cloudy days, as the UV is able to penetrate the clouds, with exposure sometimes made even more intense due to reflections off these clouds.

We also have to be particularly careful in the winter months as the sun actually sits lower on the horizon, so we get more harmful UV directly entering the eye.

What happens if you don’t protect your eyes from UV?

There are several conditions that can be worsened or brought on by UV rays. Some of the key issues are as follows:

  • Photokeratitis: caused by exposure to high doses of UV, where the cornea itself is sunburnt. It is commonly known as snow blindness as it can be experienced by those who spend time in snow environments like skiers. Snow, like water and white sand is highly reflective of UV.
  • Pterygium: a fleshy white-pink growth that can invade the cornea and disfigures the eye. This condition is commonly known as Surfer’s Eye, due to the high rate of surfers experiencing these growths from long periods outside, particularly on the water’s reflective surface, resulting in overexposure to UV rays.
  • Cataracts: clouding of the eye, leading to blurred and distorted vision. It is estimated that 20 per cent of cataract cases are caused or made worse by UV exposure.

The damage to the eye caused by UV exposure is generally cumulative. If you are not utilising eye protection when outside from early childhood eye problems are likely to develop later in life.

Sunglasses are the simple and stylish solution

The good news is that the way to prevent these issues is a quick fix - get yourself some sunglasses!

A quality pair of sunnies, along with a wide-brim hat can block out the majority of UV rays from your eyes, leaving you protected. Remember to always check the UV grade of the sunglasses, as not all glasses are made the same, with lens tint and price not always a good indicator of UV protection. Adding polarization to your lenses will also cut down more reflections.

Since 1 July 2019, all sunglasses including fashion spectacles sold in Australia must be tested and labelled according to the Australian standards. This standard sets limits for the allowable UV transmission of sunglasses for both adult and children sunglasses.

Sunglasses tested to Australian requirements offer more UV protection than sunglasses tested to international standards. Choosing sunglasses that meet the requirements of the Australian standard ensures that your eyes have adequate protection against UV damage.

Your sunglasses should have a lens UV rating of at least 3. To know what level the UV is at where you live, use the SunSmart App for live updates.

If you aren’t sure if your sunglasses are up to standard, the best step to take is to book in with your local optometrist for a consultation. Use our Find an Optometrist tool to locate an optometrist near you.




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