Do your sunglasses have what it takes to protect your eyes? As the summer heats up and people spend more time outdoors, it is very important to wear UV blocking eyewear to protect against exposure to ultraviolet rays that can cause damage to your eyes.

Damage caused by UV from the sun can occur without you even being aware of it, as often symptoms are delayed. Intense, short-term exposure to UV rays can lead to sunburn of the eye, or photokeratitis, while long term exposure can lead to and intensify ocular damage which can result in the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Although it is convenient to grab a cheap pair of sunglasses from the drugstore, they often won’t do the trick. Always look for a sticker that says they have 100% UV filtration, but unfortunately even sometimes that is not enough. Depending on the lens material there can be degradation in UV protection over time. In some cases the UV protection can begin to wear off your sunglasses as a result of extensive cleaning or from contact with certain substances such as sunscreen.

In order to really protect your eyes from the sun, you should look for a good quality lens that will block 100 percent of UV rays. Polarized lenses are an added feature on some glasses. They block glare coming directly into your eyes or reflected off surfaces such as water, roads, and buildings. Often polarization and UV protection will come together, and some polarized lenses manufacturers guarantee that they will retain their protection for the life of your sunglasses.

The shape of your sunglasses also plays a role in protecting your eyes from the sun. Try to find a pair of sunglasses with large lenses or a wraparound style to protect as much of the skin around your eye as possible and to prevent the sun from creeping in along the sides. You can also explore the option of performance sunglasses or sport sunglasses if you spend a good deal of time outdoors, or engage in activities that may require more durable shades. Sports sunglasses are made to address the particular light conditions that you may encounter during different activities in addition to providing stability and durability to enhance performance.

Furthermore, did you know that while most contact lenses block 10-20% of UV radiation, there are now contact lenses that block more than 90% of UV? This helps to shield the internal structures of the eyes from the damaging effects of long-term UV exposure. Keep in mind that even on cloudy days, when you may not feel the need to wear sunglasses, as much as half of the UV-radiation still passes through the clouds to reach us. If you are a contact lens wearer, or interested in contact lenses, ask Dr. Cohen if these UV-blocking contact lenses might work for you.

“Optimal UV protection for our eyes involves a ‘triad’ of coverage that includes: a hat with a brim, sunglasses, and, for people who wear contact lenses, a UV-blocking lens (e.g., “Acuvue” brand lenses)

Speak to your eye doctor, Dr. Stephen Cohen, to discuss your options and to make sure that you are doing all you can to protect your eyes from harmful UV.