Eyesight: The best choice of sunglasses to protect the eyes from sun damage

Emily MacDonagh outlines importance of sunglasses during summer

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Invisible, high-energy ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to photokeratitis – a type of sunburn to the outer layers of the cornea (the transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil). Experts at Specsavers detailed the symptoms of photokeratitis, such as red, swollen eyes. Persistent exposure to UV light can increase the risk of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer.

How to choose protective sunglasses

You need to make sure your sunglasses have certified UV400 protection.

Such sunnies are “the best choice to ensure your eyes are fully protected from sun damage”.

Check your sunglasses have the “CE” or “UV400” mark; sunglasses should also have the lens shade marked on the frame.

Shade categories

  • Category 0 — clear or very light lenses for fashion and indoor use
  • Category 1 — pale lenses for overcast days
  • Category 2 — moderate lenses for protection against glare
  • Category 3 — dark lenses for bright days (the most common category)
  • Category 4 — very dark lenses for intense sunshine (i.e. on mountains and glaciers)

For instance, a pair of sunglasses could read: “C3 CE”.

If you’re unsure about the safety of your own sunglasses, you can take them to a Specsavers store to be advised on whether they are safe or not.


The College of Optometrists noted that a delay of six to 12 hours between UV exposure and onset of symptoms is “usual”.

Symptoms include irritation, pain, redness, blurring of vision, teary eyes and involuntary eye twitching.

If you experience photokeratitis, using a cold compress on the eye is recommended.

The eyes should rest by keeping them closed and if symptoms persist for more than two days, then you should seek help from an optometrist.

“Fortunately the condition gets better by itself and there is usually no permanent damage,” the experts noted.

However, UV damage – as mentioned previously – can lead to cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer.


The NHS explained cataracts are “cloudy patches” that can grow in size.

They cause blurry and misty vision, eventually leading to blindness.

Seek professional care with an optometrist if you experience any signs of cataracts.

Signs of cataracts

  • Your eyesight is blurred or misty
  • You find lights too bright or glaring
  • You find it harder to see in low light
  • Colours look faded.

“If you wear glasses, you may feel your lenses are dirty and need cleaning, even when they do not,” the NHS added.

Cataracts progressively get worse over time, so surgery might be recommended to replace the affected lens.

“Surgery is the only treatment that’s proven to be effective for cataracts,” the NHS certified.

As well as injury to the eyes, smoking, diabetes, drinking too much alcohol and long-term use of steroids can contribute to cataracts.

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