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Sunglasses: More Than a Style Statement

The importance of 'shades' in eye protection

From Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" Ray-Bans to Bono's wraparounds, sunglasses have long been an integral element of celebrity style.

But finding the right shades is about more than being fashion-forward. Studies suggest too much sunlight can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration, making sunglasses a key factor in prevention.

"In the long term, it's a good idea to wear them to decrease sun exposure," says Mathew MacCumber, MD, an ophthalmologist at Rush University Medical Center.

UV protection is crucial

Regardless of brand name or price point, the key thing to look for in a pair of sunglasses is how well they protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says to opt for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of all UV light. Not just UVA radiation, because UVB radiation is actually considered more dangerous to your eyes and skin.

Some manufacturer's labels will say, "UV absorption up to 400nm," which means the same thing as 100 percent UV absorption.

"Certainly I think the UV protection helps, and cheaper sunglasses may not provide that," says MacCumber, who also recommends wearing a hat to further reduce sunlight exposure.

Perhaps even more important, MacCumber notes that wearing glasses also can help prevent injuries while hiking or enjoying other activities like racquetball and tennis.

Other tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

1. Choose wrap-around styles to block rays from the side.

2. Even if your contact lenses have UV protection, you should still wear sunglasses.

3. Wear glasses even if it's cloudy. Rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.

Regardless of brand name or price point, the key thing to look for in a pair of sunglasses is how well they protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.

4. It's particularly important to wear sunglasses in these instances:

  • In the early afternoon when the sun is at its peak
  • At higher altitudes where UV light is more intense
  • When you're at the beach or in the water
  • When you are engaged in winter sports, especially at high altitudes;
  • When you're taking medications that can cause sensitivity to light (photosensitivity), including certain antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and diuretics

5. Polarized lenses cut reflected glare — sunlight that bounces off smooth surfaces like pavement, car windows, chromed surfaces or water. They can be particularly useful for driving or when you're out on a boat.

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