We all know that sunlight is both health-giving and damaging. It can boost immunity and is essential to making vitamin D. But just as radiation from the sun can damage the skin’s cells, unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays—UVA and UVB—can also permanently damage structures in the eye and speed the progression of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
Two Lines of Defense from Damaging Rays
Given the potential for high-energy rays to make your AMD worse, you’ll want to do all you can to protect yourself from the damage these rays can cause year-round.
1. Keep out the damaging rays
Keeping damaging light from meeting the eye is by far the best way to protect your vision. Here’s how.
Buy sunglass lenses that filter 90-100% of UVA and UVB light
Plan to carry them with you at all times
Wear sunglasses the entire time you are outdoors, year-round, including while driving
Wear a wide-brimmed hat or a sun visor on the brightest days
Avoid going outdoors when the UV index is at its highest (see the EPA’s UV index)
2. Boost your body’s defense system
Your doctor may have recommended that you take a vitamin with a nutrient formula recommended by the National Eye Institute. That’s because supplements based on the AREDS clinical trials contain antioxidants. Along with a diet that includes plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, these types of supplements support your body’s antioxidant defense system. Antioxidants are thought to mop up free radicals before they can cause harm. In fact, the same nutrients that are found in dark leafy green vegetables help protect those veggies’ leaves from sun damage.
Should I Worry About Blue Light and Macular Degeneration?
There’s been a lot of talk lately about blue light, which some experts believe may play a role in eye health. How are we exposed to blue light?
It's part of the sun’s visible spectrum—by far the most powerful form of solar radiation.
It’s a component of the light that emanates from digital screens (televisions, computers, tablets and phones).
It’s in the light that comes from fluorescent and LED lights.
At this point, no research has conclusively pointed to blue light as a factor in AMD. While blue light did affect retinal cells grown in a lab, it’s unclear whether this is also true in the human eye. Still, you might find blue-blocking computer glasses a comfort if you’re a heavy user of digital devices, and you can ask your optometrist about the best sunglass tints for blue light blocking. We’ll be following the research and updating you as we learn more.
How Much Do You Know About Protecting Your Eyes from UV Rays?
True or false? I don’t have to wear protective eyewear if the sunlight doesn’t bother me.
False. Your personal threshold for bright light is not a good measure of UV penetration. While people with light eyes and hair who may be more sensitive to bright sun are at particularly high risk for UV damage, everyone should protect their eyes.
True or false? I don’t have to buy expensive sunglasses to get enough UV protection.
True. Over-the-counter sunglasses may have a sticker that says the lenses offer 100% UVA and UVB protection, but that’s no guarantee. If you want to be sure, bring them to your eye doctor who can perform a test on the lenses, or buy them from a reputable retailer who makes better quality optics. Most prescription glasses have UV protection built into the lens.
True or false? The darker the lens, the more protection I get from the sun’s rays.
False. While darker sunglasses decrease the amount of visible light, a darker lens is not better at filtering out UV rays. Some tints such as brown, copper and gray are better for people with AMD because they improve the color saturation and contrast. Yellow and amber tints filter visible blue light.
True or false? Sunglasses are necessary even when it’s cloudy.
True. While clouds can filter out much of the UV rays hitting the earth, some still makes it through the atmosphere even on cloudy days. And if you are sitting in the shade, UV rays can easily bounce off buildings, snow, glass, sand and water.
True or false? I don’t have to wear sunglasses during the winter.
False. It’s true that in winter UV rays are weaker in the Northern hemisphere when the earth tilts away from the sun . But the damaging rays are still there, even though you don’t feel the warmth.
The Best Sunglasses for Macular Degeneration
When you’re shopping for sunglasses, you have a few options to choose from—some more costly than others. Your main goal is to find a pair that protects you from UV rays by filtering sunlight from all angles, but there are other features to keep in mind. Some lenses reduce glare, and if you have any vision loss, you’ll find that your glasses can also improve contrast.
Here are some of your best options.
Wrap-style frames fit closely to the face and bend around the temples, which prevents UV rays from sneaking in on the sides. This style reduces most sunlight from reaching the macula.
These frames are designed to fit over your prescription eyeglasses so you don’t have to buy two pairs or switch between them. They offer good side protection from UV rays.
Polarized lenses reduce glare outdoors by filtering out light reflecting off surfaces like water or snow, and certain road surfaces. AMD can increase your sensitivity to glare.
An anti-reflective lens coating reduces the amount of glare that reflects back into your eyes both outdoors and indoors—for example, when you’re looking at a screen.
Amber or Gray Tinted Lenses
Amber and gray block more blue light. Amber also increases the perception of contrast, which can diminish with AMD. Avoid amber lenses when driving.
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