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Keeping your eyes safe

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Whether it’s a day on the beach or skiing the slopes, eye protection is important all year round.

Photo by Bennie Lukas Bester from Pexels

While Canadians slather their skin with sunscreen, there is another body part they’re likely forgetting to protect and in winter too. Spending a day at the beach without proper eye protection can cause immediate pain and tearing that can last for days. Dr. Setareh Ziai, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute, says it is like a sunburn on the ocular surface.

Short-term pain isn’t the only issue, says Ziai. Exposure to the sun’s rays can also lead to both cancerous and non-cancerous growths on the eye and can accelerate cataracts. “We are exposed to UV radiation all year, especially in Canada,” she says. The sun is also damaging to the eyelid as the skin around the eye is thinner than on other parts of the body. Despite the risks, Ziai says only around 30% of people wear their sunglasses. “It’s something we really need to work on,” she says.

According to Ziai, most of our exposure to UV radiation takes place before the age of 21—but few children wear sunglasses. “They spend so much time outside,” she says. “So I think it’s important for parents not to just look after their own eyes because they’re aging, but also to take care of their children’s eyes.”

It is important for people of all ages to wear sunglasses year-round. Ziai recommends pairing sunglasses with a wide brimmed hat for the best protection.

What to know before you buy shades

Follow these tips from The Canadian Dermatology Association and The Canadian Ophthalmological Society’s public outreach effort, The Sunglasses Project, to get the most out of your sunglasses.

  1. Bigger is better: The bigger the glasses, the more skin they protect.
  2. Check for protection: Search for sunglasses that block 99–100% of UVA and UVB rays and also screen 75–90% of visi- ble light.
  3. Think green: The colour of your lenses doesn’t have a big impact on the protection level, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends green lenses for optimal contrast and minimal distortion.
  4. Take a look in the mirror: If you can easily see your eyes, the glasses are likely too light.


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