Exposure to UV radiation over long periods can lead to serious damage to the eyes. If practical try to protect the eyes all year using sunglasses.
Health effects of UV radiation to the eyes
Too much UV radiation to the eyes can cause short term complaints such as:
- mild irritation
- excessive blinking
- difficulty looking at strong light
- acute photokeratopathy, also known as sunburn of the cornea or snow blindness.
Exposure to UV radiation over long periods can lead to more serious damage to the eyes such as:
- cataracts, or cloudiness of the lens
- cancer of the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the white part of the eye
- pterygium (pronounced tur-rig-i-um), an overgrowth of the conjunctiva on to the cornea
- solar keratopathy, or cloudiness of the cornea
- skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes and ocular melanoma.
During the sun protection times, you can use a hat and/or sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV radiation. When there is no UV Alert (and no sun protection times), SunSmart does not recommend the use of a hat for eye protection due to vitamin D requirements.
When choosing sunglasses for sun protection, remember:
- Wear close fitting, wrap around style sunglasses with a broad-brimmed hat. A broad-brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation to the eyes by 50% but add sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard and you can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
- Check the swing tag to ensure they meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003.
- Look for the words ‘good UV protection' on the label or swing tag or look for categories 2, 3 or 4. These sunglasses absorb more than 95% of UV radiation.
- Some sunglasses have an eye protection factor or EPF rating; EPF 9 or 10 exceed the Australian Standard and block almost all UV radiation.
- Check if the sunglasses are suitable for driving.
- Polarised sunglasses reduce glare and make it easier to see on a sunny day.
- The Australian Standard for sunglasses and fashion spectacles does not cover prescription glasses. Some prescription glasses provide UV radiation protection – check with your optometrist. If purchasing prescription sunglasses, make sure they are close fitting and wrap around in style.
- Sunglasses should not be worn at night as this reduces visibility.
Children and sunglasses
Since eye damage from UV radiation builds over time, it is important to protect the eyes of children, which are particularly sensitive to UV radiation.
Sunglasses designed for babies and toddlers have soft elastic to keep them in place. It is important to choose a style that stays on securely so that the arms don’t become a safety hazard.
Toy sunglasses do not meet the requirements under the Australian Standard and should not be used for sun protection.
Some young children may be reluctant to wear sunglasses. You can still protect their eyes by putting on a broad-brimmed hat and staying in the shade.
Eye protection for outdoor workers
Some outdoor workers need protection from flying particles, dust, splashing materials and harmful gases. Tinted eye protectors that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1337.1:2010 (Eye and face protectors for occupational applications) provide sun protection, and reduce glare outside. Untinted eye protectors marked ‘O’ also have sufficient UV protection for outdoor use.
Sunglasses which meet the AS1067 standard, worn together with a broad brimmed hat, can reduce the amount of UV reaching the eyes by up to 98%.
If you need protection from flying particles, dust, splashing materials or harmful gases, sunglasses which comply with both the AS1067 and AS/NZS1337 should be worn.