Ultraviolet (UV) light is an invisible, electromagnetic radiation. Your exposure to UV rays comes primarily from the sun, even on a cloudy day. The sun emits UV rays, and unprotected, prolonged exposure can cause serious vision problems. One simple solution to maintaining healthy vision is to use UV protective eyewear, such as sunglasses, no matter the season, location or activity. Each year, The Vision Council conducts research regarding UV eye safety. The 2015 report, Protection for the Naked Eye: Sunglasses as a Health Necessity, can be found here.
We also developed an infographic showing some of the results of the report. You can download the infographic here to share on your social media channels, in your place of business, or in your own home.
Sunglasses are more than a fashion accessory
While 65 percent of American adults see a pair of shades as a fashion accessory when out on the town, sunglasses are also a critical health necessity. A significant number of Americans are still not aware of the health risk they take when going outside without protecting their eyes against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In fact, one in four adults (26 percent) rarely or never wear sunglasses when going outside.
And it's not just the bright summertime sun that puts us at risk. Every day, whether it's sunny or cloudy, spring or winter, UV rays can damage eyes in profound ways, making protective eyewear, such as sunglasses, all the more important.
Short-term UV exposure can leave eyes bloodshot, swollen or hyper-sensitive to light. But over a longer term, this exposure can accelerate serious eye health problems, including cataracts, macular degeneration, abnormal growths on the eye's surface and even cancer of the eye and surrounding skin.
UV damages your eyes similar to how it damages skin
UV damage is cumulative, meaning that damage done to the eyes adds up over time, and once the damage has been done it cannot be reversed. For this reason, it is never too early or too late to start protecting your eyes from damaging amounts of UV radiation. You can decrease your UV exposure by wearing sunglasses any time you are outdoors, year-round.
UV radiation is present no matter the season. Although it can be easier to feel the impact of sun on skin in the summer, UV radiation is always present and can be even more damaging during colder months when adults and children stop wearing UV protection. While the UV index is highest in the spring and summer, it can still reach moderate to very high levels in September and October.
In winter months, UV rays can reflect off of snow and into the eyes. After a fresh snowfall or during winter sports activities, individuals can experience photokeratitis, also known as "snow blindness."
Everyone should wear sunglasses
During the spring of 2015, The Vision Council set out to understand what Americans know about UV-related eye damage and how they are protecting their eyes. A nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults participated in The Vision Council's 2015 survey. The results reveal a dire need to increase educational efforts about UV damage and to change current habits that offer little protection from the sun.
While most Americans report wearing sunglasses, more than 25% rarely or never wear shades, leaving eyes at risk. Generationally, the use of sunglasses varies substantially among the four major age groups:
- Millennials (born 1981-1996): They are the least likely to report wearing shades always or often (43%), and while they are the least likely to cite UV protection as a reason to wear them (55%), they are most likely to report wearing shades to look good. (36%).
- Generation X (born 1965-1980): They are much more likely than their younger counterparts to wear sunglasses always or often (56%), and to cite UV as a reason (65%). Fewer are concerned about looks (26%).
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): 53% say they protect their eyes always or often with sunglasses, while 27% rarely or never do. They are highly aware of UV danger (61%) but don't care much about how they look in sunglasses (9%).
- Beyond Boomers (born 1945 or earlier): They are the most likely to wear sunglasses most of the time (58%) and the least likely to say rarely or never (20%). They also have the greatest knowledge of UV danger (70%) and the least concern about looks (7%).
Wear your sunglasses every time you go outside. And remember to celebrate National Sunglasses Day on June 27. For more information, visit nationalsunglassesday.com.