Prevent Blindness, an eye health and safety organization backed by the American Optometric Association, numerous industry partners, and nonprofits, has deemed May as Ultraviolet Awareness Month. As it is getting a little more sunny outside, we need to know what to recommend to our patients to protect them from the long-term damage UV can cause. Here are 5 tips for protecting your patients’ eyes and yours as well!
1. Wear the right type of sunglasses. Just because sunglasses are dark does not mean they are actually protecting the eyes. We have to educate patients that to get maximum protection, sunglasses need to reduce glare and clearly state that they block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays, or UV absorption up to 400nm. Throw on a wide-brimmed hat as well for bonus protection.
2. Contacts help too! Contact lenses do a great job of protecting the cornea and the lens from UV rays, but not all contacts are made the same. Some brands block more UV than others, so take a minute to study up on the UV blocking of different lenses before you prescribe. Also make sure to remind your patients that while their cornea is protected, their conjunctiva, adnexa, and surrounding facial structures are not! Doubling up contacts with sunglasses is equally important.
3. Be aware that the clouds don’t help! Even on overcast days, the sun’s rays can pass through and cause damage, so don’t be fooled into leaving your sunglasses at home! This is especially important to note if you are around water or sand as they reflect the sun’s rays.
4. Be extra careful with your patients after cataract surgery! Over a person’s life, the natural lens in the eyes has been building up those pesky cataracts by kindly absorbing UV rays. However once a crystal clear intraocular lens (IOL) has been put in, UV rays may not be absorbed as much anymore depending on the type of IOL. Sunglasses and hats are especially important for these patients as they are especially at risk for damage from the sun reaching the retina.
5. Don’t forget the sunscreen! We aren’t just worried about the eyes here. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB blocking), water resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Wearing sunscreen (and reapplying) on all sun exposed areas of the body is crucial to avoid developing skin cancer down the road.