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More People -- Even Kids -- Need to Wear Sunglasses

More Than a Quarter of Adults Don't Wear Sunglasses; Many Parents Don't Have Their Kids Wear Shades
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 17, 2012 -- With summer nearly upon us, our sunglass habits could use improvement, according to a new report issued today by The Vision Council, an industry group.

While 73% of adults do wear sunglasses, only 58% of them make their children wear shades, too, the report found.

More than half of us lose or break our sunglasses every year. More than a quarter of us never bother to wear them, despite benefits to eye health.

"A substantial proportion of people still do not understand that UV exposure is harmful to the eyes as well as the skin," says Paul Michelson, MD, an ophthalmologist in La Jolla, Calif., and chairman of the Better Vision Institute, the medical advisory arm to The Vision Council.

"Even those who do understand, few understand it is the cumulative exposure that can be damaging," says Michelson, the former section chief of ophthalmology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

"The good news is, some people wear sunglasses some of the time," Michelson says. "The bad news is, not enough people wear them enough of the time."

It's never too early, Michelson tells WebMD, to put sunglasses on kids. And it's never too late to begin wearing them, he adds.

The report is titled "Finding Your Shades, Protecting Your Vision." Besides tracking sunglass-wearing habits, it lists the long- and short-term effects of UV exposure and lists U.S. cities by UV exposure levels.

Sunglass Habits: The Survey

For the survey, The Vision Council polled 10,000 adults from across the country. Barely 1 in 6 said eye health was the reason for wearing sunglasses. Many more, two-thirds, said the purpose was to prevent glare.

The researchers found a variety of reasons why people do not wear sunglasses. Among them:

  • Nearly half simply forget.
  • About 14% lose or break sunglasses often.
  • About 20% don't believe their eyes are at risk from sun exposure.

UV Eye Exposure & Health Problems

UV exposure can cause short-term and long-term effects on eye health. People with blue eyes are more at risk for UV damage than those with brown eyes, experts say.

After a long day at the beach, eyes may seem bloodshot, swollen, and light-sensitive.

Sunburn of the eye, or photokeratitis, is one effect. It's also known as ''snow blindness," as it happens to skiers, too.

In severe cases, it can cause loss of vision for up to 48 hours, according to the report.

Long-term, excess UV exposure can cause a variety of eye problems, including:

  • "Surfer's eye," also known as pterygium: This abnormal but usually benign growth on the eye's surface can itch, swell, and become irritated. Surgery can be done to remove it, but it can come back.
  • Cataracts: The progressive clouding of the lens of the eye.
  • Age-related macular degeneration: The macula is at the back of the eye, in the middle of the retina. Damage to the nerve cell in the macula can dull colors and blur fine detail in your vision.
  • Cancer of the eye, eyelid, or nearby skin.

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