Scientific studies have shown that prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause cataracts and macular degeneration and can lead to permanent eye damage and even blindness. Prevention by wearing quality sunglasses that block at least 99% of harmful rays from the sun along with other preventative measures can reduce the chance of these problems.
In addition, it turns out that some contact wearers may be receiving added protection against harmful sun damage to the eyes that those who wear sunglasses or prescription eyewear alone do not, namely UV protection built into their contacts.
While some contacts offer little or no UV protection, others provide adequate additional protection as a supplement and compliment to sunglasses. In fact, research indicates that UV contacts in conjunction with sunglasses that provide UV protection provide better UV protection that just sunglasses alone.
Contacts with UV protection are labeled either Class 1 or Class 2. Class 1 indicates that lenses block 96% of UVA rays and 100% of UVB rays. Class 2 lenses block 70% and 95% respectively. Many contacts offer no additional UV protection.
Research also warns against relying on UV contacts alone for protecting the eyes against sun damage. This is because UV contacts in general block at least 10% less UV light than sunglasses with the amount being blocked varying from one pair of contacts to the next.
While wraparound sunglasses provide the best option for full-eye sun protection, simply wearing any sunglasses that protect against at least 99% of UV rays provides essential protection for eyes against the sun’s harmful rays. But, wearing UV contacts in addition to sunglasses brings added whole-eye protection that glasses alone simply cannot provide.
Most sunglasses fail to prevent all UV rays from reaching the eyes because of direct and indirect sunlight that shines through the top, sides and bottoms of glasses. Contacts can provide protection to theses exposed areas.
Taking the idea of complete protection even further, adding a wide-brimmed hat that covers 1” or more in front of the eye when wearing UV sunglasses and contacts provides the ideal solution for those whose eyes are exposed to the sun on a regular and prolonged basis. Those individuals include lifeguards, ski patrol and other individuals who work and spend the majority of their time in the sun.
Just like all sunglasses are not created equal and making sure you purchase quality sunglasses is essential, so too is the case with contacts that protect against UV rays. As already mentioned, not all lenses provide the same amount of UV protection with some providing no protection at all against the sun.
Check with your eye care provider with regard to the UV rating on your contacts. If your contacts do not provide UV protection, request contacts that do.
The bottom line is that UV contacts alone do not provide as much protection as sunglasses alone, especially wraparound styles. But together, UV contacts and sunglasses provide solid protection for eyes against the sun’s harmful rays.