Nearly Half of US Adults Do Not Protect Their Eyes from UV Radiation

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Despite the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (UV) to eyes and vision, 40 percent of US adults do not wear sunglasses while outdoors, and nearly half of drivers do not protect their eyes on the road. Unprotected exposure to the sun increases risk for serious vision problems like cataracts, abnormal eye growths, cancer of the eye and surrounding skin, and macular degeneration.

In a new report, The Vision Council reveals that while a majority of adults report sunglass use for UV protection, far less actually wear them. Inconsistent sunglass use among children, who receive three times the annual sun exposure as adults, is even more concerning.[i] More than half of parents surveyed for the report do not protect their children's eyes with sunglasses.  

Apart from sunglass use, the report finds that UV protection is not a priority for shoppers. Just 12 percent of adults ranked UV protection first as a consideration for a recent sunglass purchase. In Miami, a city that sees 255 days of extreme or high levels of UV, only 6 percent of shoppers ranked UV protection most important.

"More Americans are acknowledging the need for UV protection but there is a big disconnect when it comes to our eyes," said Ed Greene, CEO of The Vision Council. "While we may think we are doing a good job with protection, the truth is that we are not doing nearly enough."

UV rays harm the eye by penetrating the cornea and damaging the internal structures of the eyeball. This can lead to serious short and long-term issues, ranging from painful to permanent. Temporary problems include photokeratitis – or sunburn of the eye – while acute, high doses of UV radiation can lead to cataracts, abnormal eye growths, cancer of the eye, and macular degeneration – a major cause of vision loss in Americans. UV-protective lenses block solar rays from reaching the eye and mitigate the risk of sun-related damage.

"Sunglasses remain the best defense against UV eye damage," said Dora Adamopoulos, OD, member of the Better Vision Institute, the medical advisory arm to The Vision Council. "In my practice, I've seen firsthand the painful and sometimes devastating consequences of unprotected UV eye exposure, most of which could be prevented by using sunglasses."

Certain environmental, geographic and demographic factors increase personal risk of UV damage. Monitoring by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service found that San Juan, Honolulu, Miami, Tampa Bay and Mobile experienced the highest UV index levels over 2012. Other cities, including Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Denver ranked among the top 25.

To mitigate UV risk, The Vision Council recommends the following:

Apply your knowledge – consider UV protection a key consideration when buying sunglasses.

Consider your options – look for a variety of lenses and frame options designed for specific activities and lifestyles.

Know where to go – purchase sunglasses from a credible source and look for a label on the lens or frame indicating UVA and UVB protection.

Learn more – visit thevisioncouncil.org for additional information about UV protection, sunglasses and eye health.

To view or download a copy of The Big Picture: Eye Protection is Always in Season, visit The Vision Council online at thevisioncouncil.org.