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Sunglasses for Eye Protection in the Elderly

Sunglasses for Eye Protection in the ElderlyAlthough the use of sunglasses in the young are often seen as more of a fashion statement, it is very much an essential part of eye protection. This is especially in the case in the elderly who are prone to eye-related disorders that are directly related to UV exposure, most commonly from sunlight. The importance of UV protection for the skin is well known and most people take the necessary precautions with the use of sunscreens. Similarly the eye needs to be shielded from the harsh effects of sunlight. UV radiation does not only damage the surface of the eye  but can extend to the inner parts of the eye as well.

Sunlight Eye Problems in the Elderly

Sunlight exposure can cause a number of different eye problems. The most common of these is irritation and inflammation of the cornea (keratitis) and clouding of the lens (cataract). It may also contribute towards some types of eye cancers. For the elderly, the role of sunlight in cataracts is very important. Cataracts are a common eye condition in the elderly which can cause loss of vision. Although it is reversible with procedures such as lens replacement surgery, it is best avoided or at least the extent of the sun damage minimized. Avoiding sunlight is not possible in everyday life but reducing its impact with the use of sunglasses should be considered. Age-related macular degeneration which is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the elderly may be linked to high-energy visible light in blue to violet range.

Types of Sunglasses

Not all sunglasses these days are made the same and it is therefore important to consult with an optometrist or opthamologist for information on the suitable eyewear protection. The key with regards to sunlight protection is the amount of UVA and UVB light that will be blocked. Ideally the sunglasses should block around 95% to 100% of the UV light with wavelengths between 380nm to 400nm, which is marked as UV380 or UV400. Cosmetic sunglasses are not suitable for this purpose and should be avoided altogether as a means of protective eyewear against UV light.

Sunglasses may have other characteristics that may aid with vision in the elderly but is not necessarily efficient UV protection.

  • Polarized and photochromic lenses can help reduce glare.
  • Mirror-coated lenses help reduce light intensity.
  • Blue-blockers may assist in blocking high-energy visible light.
  • Polycarbonate lenses are impact resistant and ideal for the active person.

Although these other lenses may have some benefit to vision, it does not necessarily offer the level of protection needed to avoid UV associated eye problems.

Use of Sunglasses by the Elderly

Sunglasses should be used when outdoors in daylight irrespective of the weather. In other words, sunglasses are necessary just as much in cloudy weather as it is on sunny days. It is of particular importance immediately after eye surgery while the eye is still healing. The elderly should be cautious of using certain types of lenses which can affect the ability to correctly identify colors, reduce the clarity of vision or impair vision in any way. This can affect mobility and even lead to mishaps like falls which may result in serious injuries.


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