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When In Rome Do As The Romans

Sep 3, 2008
Picture this: The year is 50AD, excitement has built in the city of Rome as the day of the gladiators fight draws near. There are some pretty savage criminals in the line up and many of Rome's citizens are baying for their blood, sick of the reign of terror that these men have wrought. A crowd has gathered early in the day and jostled for the best viewing positions. All now wait on Emperor Nero to appear and take his seat in prime position for the entertainment to commence. At the last minute, he strolls through and the crowd strain to get a glimpse of their leader. He is there in his finest robes, his crown and sunglasses.

Not as unbelievable as you may think. Records show that Emperor Nero enjoyed watching the gladiators through 'emeralds'. These would have been a fairly crude early form of sunglasses that probably not have had huge health benefits but would still have shielded Nero's eyes from the sun enough to mean that he didn't need to squint.

There are also records from 12th Century China that indicate flat panes of smoky quartz were used to protect the eyes from the glare of the sun. There is also some belief that the quartz was also used by judges for concealing their facial expressions when questioning witnesses.

It was only much later, in the mid-18th Century that people began experimenting with sunglasses as a way of caring for the eyes and not simply for comfort. Tinted glasses were used to correct vision problems and although probably not quite correct, the idea was along the right lines as now yellow tinted glasses have been found to assist with forms of dyslexia.

Sunglasses were used by film stars in the early days of motion pictures because of the glare of the lights. This has continued but more for either fashion statements or to attempt to hide identities. However, if the trend for wearing sunglasses is purely for fashion reasons then it has done us all a favour as they are very good at protecting us from sun damage which leads to molecular degeneration in later life, cataracts and even blindness.

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation causes short and long term damage. There is no way of determining how much exposure is too much as each person's eye health is different to begin with. There is even research now being conducted into how the eyesight of doctors who are carrying out radiation treatment will have their eyesight affected so this is something that should be considered by all of us. You don't need a glaringly bright summer's day to damage your eyes and the recommendation is now that if outdoors then sunglasses should be worn as a matter of course.

Sunglasses on the market today come with a guide to their UV ratings. However, those with anything less than a ninety nine per cent UV filter will still allow enough harmful rays to filter through, particularly the fashion sunglasses that fade in their protection. These purely are a fashion item and do nothing to protect the eyes from sun damage.

Some people think that the more you pay for glasses, the more protection you are likely to receive. This doesn't necessarily work. Some cheaper glasses, particularly the children's ones, come with a very high UV rating and offer a good level of protection but, as I said, the fader sunglasses often are used simply for fashion reasons and the designer makes can be very expensive but offer no protection whatsoever.

The easiest and safest thing to do is to take responsibility for our future health and sight and take action as early as possible with the use of sunglasses with a high UV rating whenever we are outside. It just needs a few people to start off this trend because no concern over appearance is worth losing your eyesight at an early age.
About the Author
Optical expert Catherine Harvey looks at how the trend for wearing sunglasses is protecting our future eyesight.
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