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Look Sharp: How to Choose Protective Eyewear

The appropriate glasses can prevent injuries and save your vision.
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Choosing the right protective eyewear can stave off needless eye injuries both at work and at play for adults and children, according to a leading Massachusetts ophthalmologist.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), Americans will buy eyeglasses 85 million times this year. Unfortunately, most people spend more time shopping for a car, a computer, or even a pair of jeans than for their glasses.

But choosing and wearing the right protective eyewear -- especially among people who wear contact lenses or who have had corrective eye surgery -- can be invaluable in terms of protecting sight and preventing eye trauma, writes Paul F. Vinger, MD. Vinger, an ophthalmologist in Concord, Mass., and a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, published an article on the subject in the May 2000 issue of the Review of Ophthalmology.

First and foremost, all lenses should be made of polycarbonate, he writes. Polycarbonate is the strongest lens material available, so it's also the best choice for all safety glasses and sports goggles.

It is also important that "all polycarbonate lenses absorb ultraviolet light and are scratch-resistant; no further ultraviolet or anti-scratch coatings are needed," Vinger writes. The sun's ultraviolet rays can be harmful to the eyes.

To help you find the best pair of glasses for your needs, your ophthalmologist may ask about your work, your hobbies, and what sports you play, Vinger says. For example, if you work with power tools, goggles with polycarbonate lenses are necessary. Make sure the label indicates that the goggles meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 standard. ANSI sets the safety standards for lenses.

Proper eye protection is also a major concern for all sports enthusiasts, Vinger writes, especially those participating in certain high-risk sports, including racquetball, tennis, squash, handball, ice hockey, badminton, archery, baseball/softball, fencing, boxing, and karate.

"For sports that have the potential for eye contact with body parts, a ball, racket, or stick, 3 millimeter thick polycarbonate lenses ... are recommended," Vinger writes.

And once you get them, you have to wear them, Monica L. Monica, MD, PhD, an ophthalmologist in private practice in New Orleans and a spokeswoman for the AAO, tells WebMD.

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