WILL PINKSTON | The Sun
Dr. Greg Batts, an optometrist at Paducah's Keene Optical, grabs a pair of UVA/UVB approved sunglasses from a display case in his practice Monday. In the same way skin can burn if unprotected in the summer sun, eyes can also be damaged if not protected from long-term exposure with appropriate eyewear.
Though they’ve become more of a fashion statement in recent years, quality sunglasses remain a first-line defense on those sunny summer days against harmful burning rays.
It’s easy to visualize the ill-effects of sunlight over exposure on the skin in the form of that irritating red sunburn, however, when it comes to the peepers, it can literally be harder to see such damaging consequences.
In the same way the sun causes the skin to blister and bubble when not adequately protected with sunscreen, the surface of corneas can also burn and become susceptible to solar keratitis, said Dr. Greg Batts, an optometrist with Paducah’s Keene Optical.
Occurring when harmful ultraviolet light is focused for a prolonged period of time on the cornea, solar keratitis can cause blurry vision, mild to severe pain, light sensitivity and the sensation of having something touching the eye.
Similar to skiers’ snow blindness in the winter, beachgoers, fishermen and boaters are susceptible without protection, as they’re near reflective bodies of water or sandy beaches.
People suspecting solar keratitis should seek an eye care professional and usually artificial tears or prescription antibiotic drops are advised to cut down on irritation or inflammation, Batts said.
While it’s a painfully common condition, it can be avoided by simply adhering to proper guidelines for sun exposure.
“People make the mistake of buying those cheap sunglasses at the gas station, as opposed to getting better glasses, and that’s almost as bad as going without,” Batts said. “The cheaper lenses are dark, but they don’t have the UV protection, so your pupils still dilate letting in those harmful rays.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, people should wear sunglasses that block 99- to 100-percent UVA and UVB rays or UV-blocking contact lenses. Wrap-around sunglasses and wide brimmed hats are preferred because they help block rays from indirectly entering the eye.
Polarized lenses also provide an extra layer of protection for boaters, as it cuts down on extra glare from water and helps keep vision clear, Batts said.
Over time, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays can also cause clouding of the eye’s lens (cataracts) or even skin cancer around the eyelids, making the importance of proper eye wear paramount for outdoor activities.
“A good pair of polarized, UV-blocking sunglasses for a day at the lake and you’re set,” Batts said.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.