Richmond's sunniest days are arriving along with local optometrists' warning: Protect your eyes.
"[Sunlight] contributes to developing cataracts and other eye disease," says Dr. Alan Toler, a local private-practice optometrist. He explains that cataracts (the clouding of the lens of the eye) develop when the sun's ultraviolet rays penetrate through the iris (the colored part of the eye) and become absorbed by the crystalline lens behind the iris. "Over time, the lens starts to get cloudy." Dr. William H. Benson, chairman for the department of ophthalmology at VCU Medical Center, adds that though scientific studies are inconclusive, they suggest that UV rays can cause cortical cataracts, which specifically form on the inner layer of the crystalline lens.
"Everyone gets cataracts if you live long enough," says Dr. Read McGehee of the Virginia Eye Institute. Studies have yet to prove the correlation between the use of sunglasses and a lack of cataracts. However, McGehee says, "UV glasses protect from skin cancers of the eyelid and sun-associated surface conditions of the eye. You go out into the sun and you put sunscreen everywhere, but you don't put it on your eyelid."
McGehee and Toler agree that wearing sunglasses and sunscreen prevents eye cancers and other conditions. Take note, Toler says, of the small labels on sunglasses, confirming that your choice blocks both the harmful UVA and UVB rays. Larger frames are better than smaller ones, but anything trumps unprotected exposure, he says. And if you plan to spend a lot of time around water, be extra cautious, McGehee notes — when they're reflected off the surface, UV rays increase in intensity.
Sunshine does aid vitamin D production through the skin, Toler says — so to enjoy lifelong wellness, don some shades.