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Are You in the Dark About Sunglasses? Tennis Vision: Sunglasses That Don’t Protect

July 14, 2003 06:12 PM

by Jim Brown

Dark sunglasses that many players wear while training or competing may result in more harm than good. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that dark glasses cause the pupils to enlarge, allowing light into the field of vision.

If your glasses don't have proper ultraviolet protection, you may be letting in the sun's harmful rays instead of keeping them out. Increased exposure can lead to cataracts, corneal damage, and macular degeneration.

"Sports sunglasses should also protect against light toxicity and impact injury," says Paul Vinger, M.D., Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Tufts University. "I personally prefer glasses with a neutral density gray tint. They don't change other color values, they filter all shades evenly, and they reduce potentially toxic bright light."

Made of Polycarbonate
"New standards for shatter resistant sports eyewear are being written. For now, athletes should look for glasses made of polycarbonate," continues Vinger. "Industrial eye protectors are a good choice for athletes. They are inexpensive ($4.00), made of polycarbonate, and filter out harmful rays even if they are not tinted. You can add a comfort tint to the glasses that, in some cases, can improve performance. A slightly amber or yellow lens filters the 'blue hazard' and increases sharpness. Avoid glasses that are tinted blue. The idea is to eliminate blue colors, not transmit them."

Vinger warns athletes that many recognizable brand names offer virtually no protection against impact. "They may provide excellent protection against harmful rays, but the lens can shatter and cause serious damage to the eyes. We saw one person wearing lenses made of glass suffer a lacerated eye just by being hit with a frisbee."

Additional Safety Measures
The Academy suggests these additional measures to ensure that your eyes are protected:

  • Select glasses that carry a PECC (Protective Eyewear Certification Council) seal.
  • Select sunglasses that block ultraviolet (particularly UVB) rays. The ability to block UV light is not related to the darkness of the lens or the cost.
  • Ideally, wear sunglasses that wrap all the way around to your temples, so the sun's rays can't enter from the side.
  • In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-rimmed hat (if that is practical in your sport or activity). Don't be fooled by a cloudy day. Ultraviolet rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.
  • Even if you wear contacts with UV protection, wear your sunglasses.
  • In addition to the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to bright sun, protect your eyes from acute damage caused by single outings on very bright days. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light reflected off sand, snow, or pavement can damage the cornea. Similar to a sunburn on your skin, corneal ultraviolet injuries are painful, but usually heal quickly.

Protective eyewear standards currently exist only for the racket sports, women's lacrosse, paintball, and youth baseball. Specific protective eyewear guidelines for those activities can be found at www.protecteyes.org.

ã 2003 HMS Publishing, Inc.

Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at sportsmed@mindspring.com.

 

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