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Medical Reasons for Wearing Sunglasses

Jan 17, 2008
It's a well known fact that many people nowadays wear sunglasses purely as a fashion statement or a reason to look 'cool' and trendy, but modern sunglasses were invented with another purpose in mind and that was to serve as protection for the eyes against the rays of the sun. I have tried to put together an article detailing the medical or scientific ramifications, (not that I'm suggesting for one minute that sunglasses shouldn't be worn as a fashion accessory), as to why people should wear sunglasses.

UV Protection
Despite the fact that the sun is more than 90 million miles away from our planet, its rays pose serious health and ocular dangers to us all. Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays produced by natural sunlight has been associated with all sorts of eye conditions in human beings. Cataracts are a condition that involves the clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens becomes more opaque and is therefore less able to transmit light rays onto the retina. The image on the back of the eye is then blurred. The structure of the lens also changes as the lens becomes less transparent. Although most cataracts develop as people get older, studies have shown a link between overexposure to UV rays from sunlight and the condition. It has also been determined though, that people who wear sunglasses on a regular basis have a decreased incidence of this eye condition. Photokeratitis is another condition associated with the sun. Defined as the burning of the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye) by UVB rays, it is also known as snowblindness and typically occurs at high altitudes on highly reflective snow, thus people that ski would be more susceptible to getting the condition. Pterygium is a condition which can be defined as a raised, triangular or wedge-shaped growth of conjunctival tissue which grows over the surface of the cornea and can be caused by long-term exposure to sunlight, especially UV rays. Various eye cancers can also be attributed to excessive over exposure to UV rays in sunlight.

Sunglasses Reduce Glare
Obviously, when the sun is shining the brightness and glare interfere with comfortable vision and the ability to see clearly by causing squinting and eye watering. By reflecting the sun's rays, many surfaces create glare- snow, water, windscreens, metal, the list is endless and all are items or conditions that most people will encounter almost daily in their lives. Polarised sunglasses are particularly effective when it comes to reducing glare.

Sunglasses Protect from Wind and Dust
Sunglasses worn in windy weather can act as an effective barrier against windblown particles from getting in your eyes and causing possible corneal abrasions.

They Keep Eyes Moist
Wearing sunglasses helps reduce the rate of evaporation of tears from the eyes keeping them moist and comfortable. Sunglasses can also help keep contact lenses from drying out due to this helping against evaporation.

Blue Light Protection
Long-term exposure to the blue and violet portion of the solar spectrum has been implicated as a risk factor for macular degeneration, especially for individuals that are said to be 'sun sensitive'.

Dark Adaptation
Just by spending a couple of hours in bright sunlight during the day can seriously affect the eyes ability to readjust to night time or indoor levels of light, thus driving at night, for example, can be more hazardous for people that spend time in direct sunlight than those that don't.

Sunglasses Reduce Headaches and Eyestrain
It is our pupils that control the amount of light that reaches the retina at the back of the eye. The pupils' size dilates and contracts depending on current light conditions. The darker the condition, the pupil dilates to allow more light in but the opposite happens in brighter conditions, where the pupil contracts to reduce the amount of light that enters the eye. In very bright conditions the pupil cannot contract enough to reduce the light entering the eye to a comfortable level, which causes squinting. Squinting has the effect of reducing the space between the eyelids which further reduces the amount of light entering the eye. Muscle fatigue associated with squinting and to a lesser extent, the constriction of the pupil, can lead to headaches and eyestrain. On bright sunny days, sunglasses, if worn, can reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina to a more optimal level for clearer, more comfortable vision.

Medication Induced Photosensitivity
Some types of medication, such as treatments for psoriasis, some birth controls and even tablets for skin treatment can cause people to suffer photosensitivity. This heightened sensitivity to sunlight can cause discomfort. Sunglasses can help to alleviate this problem.

Sunglasses Reduce the Effect of Jet Lag
Recent studies have discovered that sunglasses can reduce the effects of jet lag by fooling your body-clock. Apparently it seems that by altering your light patterns you can tweak your body-clock to adjust to new time zones more easily. Jet lag is actually a physical phenomenon, according to the study, not just something made up in peoples minds. The biological clock is actually a cluster of 20,000 nerve cells that are situated in the brain. Researchers discovered that people recovered much quicker from jet lag if they wore a pair of sunglasses during parts of their journey.
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