Just what are polarized sunglasses and what benefits do they give you against the harmful effects of the sun. For starters protecting yourself from eye cancer isn’t something most of us think about, but we should. While there are countless products available to help protect us from skin cancers, we don’t hear much about protecting our eyes and the delicate skin around them. These are extremely sensitive areas that should be protected. While you can use UV protectant to some extent, no cream is going to protect your eyes; you need special equipment for that.
Types of Sunglasses
There are basically two types of sunglasses that can ease the strain of bright sunlight: polarized and non-polarized. In non-polarized sunglasses, the lens is simply shaded so the wearer can see, but bright light and glare are muted. One advantage non-polarized sunglasses have over polarized is that LCD displays are easily read while wearing them. Clearly, non-polarized sunglasses do provide some sort of protection, but are they as effective as polarized sunglasses?
Most eye care professionals would say no, and here’s why. Non-polarized sunglasses may ease the strain your eyes experience in bright light, but they don’t protect your eyes or the area around them. Because the eye is shaded, the iris doesn’t contract, allowing in more light, including damaging UV rays. This increased exposure can result in damage that can lead to cancer of the eye and to the skin surrounding the eye. While non-polarized sunglasses do a fairly good job of keeping your eyes from experiencing discomfort from bright sunlight, it may come at a cost.
Benefits of Polarized Sunglasses
The benefits of polarized sunglasses outweigh those of non-polarized. Not only do these sunglasses shade the eyes from the discomfort of bright sunlight, but they are coated with a special polarized layer that reduces the amount of light from UV rays that reach the eye and its surrounding area.
Glare is caused by light reflecting off a flat surface such as water in a pool or lake, or the glare off of chrome a vehicle, bike or boat, and off other reflective surfaces. Polarized sunglasses function by aligning molecules to prevent light from coming in at vertical angles, but because the light being reflected is horizontal, the polarized sunglasses lens filters it, reducing glare while preventing most of the damaging UV rays from reaching the sensitive areas in the eyes. In addition to blocking harmful UV rays from ambient light and glare, polarized sunglass lenses help make objects appear sharper and clearer than through non-polarized.
Common UV Damage of the Eye and Eye Cancer
There are a number of structures in the eye that can be damaged by exposure to UV rays.
The cornea of the eye is sensitive and can be burned by the sun. Not only is this condition painful, it can cause the sufferer to become temporarily blind. If the person has a poor diet low in antioxidants, the condition can lead to cataracts.
The retina needs to be protected to prevent macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of blindness. If you have blue eyes, your iris may be at higher risk for UV-caused macular degeneration.
The white portion of the eye is covered by a thin membrane called the conjunctiva. When this membrane becomes damaged by UV rays, it shows signs of irritation with inflammation and thickening, sometimes growing over the cornea and interfering with vision. This condition, called pterygium, is often seen in surfers and has been dubbed “surfer’s eye.”
These conditions may be precursors to certain cancers, such as skin cancers on the eyelids that may spread to the eye. Intraocular melanoma is the most common eye cancer in adults, and conjunctival cancers, which used to be rare, are on the rise.
Why Polarized Sunglasses
By blocking a large percentage of ultraviolet rays, polarized sunglasses effectively reduce the risk of skin and eye cancer. The most vulnerable areas of the eye are protected from UV rays and the damage these rays can cause. It is crucial that you do everything to protect your eyes, including wearing polarized sunglasses.