The Vision Council, an organization globally representing manufacturers and suppliers of the optical industry, has released its annual UV report, and the 2013 findings show an alarming disconnect between how often people claim to protect their eyes with sunglasses and how often they actually do so.
The study reports 71.5 percent of about 10,000 adults claim to use sunglasses outdoors. However, in a separate observational study, only 40 percent were seen wearing protective eyewear outside. And 77 percent claim to use sunglasses while driving, while only half were actually seen sunglasses while driving. Half of parental respondents said their kids don't wear sunglasses, and only 12 percent consider UV protection when making an eyewear purchase. The Vision Council says Utahns are especially susceptible to the harmful rays, ranking Salt Lake City in the top 20 UV danger zones.
"We live at a higher altitude, in a thinner atmosphere, which removes protective layering," says Joy Gibb, an optician certified by the American Board of Opticianry and owner of Eyes of Joy, a local, mobile optical service. She notes our propensity to take advantage of outdoor recreation, but warns without protection, our eyes suffer greatly in both summer and winter, as ski slopes reflect 85 percent of the sun's UV radiation, and water reflects 100 percent.
UV rays can cause severe short and long-term damage, from photokeratitis (so-called snow-blindness, which lasts 24 to 48 hours) to macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults over 60, a consequence of years of compounded UV exposure.
"We are not protecting our children enough," Gibb says. While kids' eyes are not fully developed, the compounded UV damage in younger years can lead to skin cancer, macular degeneration or cataracts in older adults. She says there is a sense of the importance of sunscreen prevalent on playgrounds, but we don't think about our eyes.
Gibb cites lack of education as a possible reason people don't think of eyewear when they think UV protection. "We have been educated on skin cancer and melanoma," she says, but not on the cumulative harm UV rays can cause to eyes.
“Wearing UV protection as much as possible may significantly reduce the risk of UV-related eye conditions," says Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council. "UV damage is cumulative however, so even small periods of unprotected exposure can lead to long term problems."
The Vision Council's study found people report having sunglasses, but don't remember to bring them outside. "I have a pair of sunglasses in every car we own," Gibb says. Her service provides prescription and non-prescription sunglasses. She says a UV conversation should take place with any optician outfitting a client.