Why you should be wearing sunglasses all year round

We all know that exposure to the sun without adequate protection can cause irreparable damage to our skin, but not everyone realises that UV (ultraviolet) rays are harmful to their eyes, too. Most of us wear sunglasses during the summer to shield us from the glare of the sun, but an effective pair of sunglasses should protect our eyes from the damaging effects of UV rays, too.  

Research carried out by the Australian Skin Cancer Foundation found that eyes are ten times more sensitive to the sun’s invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays than skin. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause corneal damage, increase your risk of developing cataracts and/or macular degeneration, and lead to long-term issues with your eyesight. Most of us are aware that looking directly at the sun – even briefly – can cause permanent damage to your vision. Some skin cancers that are caused as a result of exposure to sunlight without adequate protection can also affect the eye. 

In the UK, it’s rare to see someone wearing sunglasses in winter – the sun doesn’t often make an appearance and, on the few occasions it does, we can’t feel the heat of it anymore, so it’s easy to assume that it can’t do much damage. But protecting your eyes from UV rays is just as important during the colder months as it is during the summer, especially if you already have a pre-existing eye condition.  

We all know that winter weather in the UK can go from one extreme to another – it can be raining in the morning, and bright and sunny in the afternoon. With no leaves on the trees and the sun positioned lower in the sky, it can be harder to shield your eyes from the glare of the sun, especially when driving, and UV rays can be more intense if they’re reflecting off snow or puddles of water – that’s why you often see people wearing sunglasses on ski slopes to avoid “snow blindness”. 

UVA rays, which – according to the World Health Organisation – make up 95% of the sun’s rays, are capable of passing through the cornea of your eye, through to the lens and retina, so they present a risk all year round, even in winter. They’re able to travel through clouds and fog and penetrate deeper into the eyes and skin, causing invisible damage, even though you can’t feel the “burning” sensation that usually accompanies exposure to the sun. 

So, what steps can you take to protect your eyes during winter?  

  • Purchase a pair of sunglasses that provide a high degree of UV protection. Research conducted by The American Academy of Ophthalmology shows that nearly half of all people who purchase sunglasses don’t check the UV rating before they do. Make sure your sunglasses are marked as 100% UV protection / CE UV400.  
  • Check that your sunglasses offer at least 80% protection from high-energy visible (HEV) rays too. 
  • Opt for polarised lenses if your budget allows for it. They’re more expensive, but they give you greater clarity of vision, reduce glare from water, snow and the road, and are great for driving.
  • Ensure your sunglasses cover your eyes completely – wraparound sunglasses protect your eyes from the side as well as the front, so they’re ideal. 
  • Keep a pair of sunglasses in your glove compartment to use if you’re driving in the winter sun. 
  • Check the UV index for your area before you leave the house to determine the level of risk. Wear sunglasses if the UV index for your area is showing a rating of 3 (moderate) or above. If it’s 2 or lower, it’s probably safe to leave them behind. 
  • UV exposure increases by about 10% per 1000 feet of altitude, so if you live in a hilly area or are intending to go for a high-altitude hike, don’t forget to take your sunglasses with you. 
  • Choose glasses that are comfortable – you’ll be more inclined to wear them for extended periods of time.  

If you’ve had cataract surgery, it’s even more important to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun. While the replacement lenses used in cataract surgery now come with built-in UV protection, that wasn’t always the case, and older lenses absorb much less UV light than ordinary glass lenses. Sunglasses also have the added benefit of keeping wind and debris out of your eyes while they’re healing after surgery. 

In short – it may not always be “fashionable” to wear sunglasses during winter, but it’s definitely good for your eyes! 

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