Head of the School of Optometry Associate Professor Peter Hendicott said people often forgot or didn’t realise that UV rays were potentially harmful to the eyes as well as the skin.
He said the solution was to don a pair of good quality sunnies – which could be as cheap as $20.
“It is very simple – all sunglasses sold in Australia have to meet the requirements of the Australian Standard, which include UV protection, and need to display labelling that they meet this standard,” Professor Hendicott said.
“Under the standard, sunglasses labelled as category 2 or 3 will provide good UV protection, and are suitable for everyday use.
“However, when the Optometrists Association Australia ran a survey earlier this year of over 1000 people, 60 per cent were unsure whether their sunglasses did provide UV blockage.”
He said eyes exposed to UV rays faced a number of risks.
“For people who spend a lot of time outside, particularly at this time of year, it is extremely important to make sure the eyes are protected,” he said.
“UV exposure over a lifetime has been implicated in the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, and people can also develop sunspots or skin cancers on the eyelids just like any other part of the body – and we don’t tend to put sunscreen on our eyelids.”
He said another risk for eyes exposed to UV was pterygium – an overgrowth of tissue at the front of the eye which can make vision blurry and need surgical removal if it gets too big.
“This is quite common, and has been known to happen in young people of 12 or 14 years of age,” Professor Hendicott said.
“Early symptoms might be a fleshy spot or a lump, irritation and redness in the area – but often there are no symptoms until the growth attaches to the cornea.”
He said people who spent lots of time outside were more at risk, but that everyone needed to be vigilant.
“Research shows that risk of pterygium is increased with UV exposure in childhood, particularly where latitude is less than 30° (Central and Northern Queensland), and also where large periods of time are spent outdoors in the third decade and older,” he said.
Professor Hendicott said tinted glasses often sold as fashion accessories might not provide UV protection; only those sold as sunglasses labelled Category 2 or 3 would meet the minimum UV protection requirements.
“If they are just about looking good they may not necessarily meet the standards for UV protection, so you need to look out for that,” he said.
“To be marketed as sunglasses they need to have a label which says they are category two or three.
“They may be $25 or $400 – the standard of protection will be the same for lenses that meet the standard. For people who wear spectacles, UV protection can be incorporated into their spectacle lenses, but this would not give the protection from glare which sunglasses do. “
Media contact: Sharon Thompson, QUT media officer – 3138 2999 or firstname.lastname@example.org