Wearing sunglasses in winter seems strange but is a good idea

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The lower angle of winter sun can damage unprotected eyes, a Taranaki optometrist has warned.

People need to be vigilant about protecting their eyes in winter as lower sun angles and UV exposure on unprotected eyes put them at greater risk of cataracts, ocular melanoma, and skin cancers around the eyelids, Stratford Optometrists’ Phillipa Charteris said.

“Despite UV levels being higher in spring and summer, eyes are naturally shaded during the hotter months as they are deep set – and thus partially protected when the sun is high in the sky. However, this means there can be more direct exposure on winter days when the sun sits lower.”

And the risk is compounded by a more casual attitude towards sun smart behaviour as the weather cools, Charteris said.

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“People relax their guard in winter, thinking that the ambient temperature is equivalent to UV levels, however the increased UV exposure from activities near snow or water like skiing and fishing can contribute to an elevated risk of damage. Summer messages for UV protection such as wearing sunglasses and hats are not in the front of their mind, but UV rays are still present and can still do harm.”

Even people who are just out taking a walk every morning need to be aware and children are particularly in danger of UV exposure, she said.

UV damage to eyes is cumulative and irreversible, and is believed to contribute to several serious eye conditions that can result in vision loss, including cataracts and corneal degeneration.

It is also considered a cause of ocular melanoma as well as skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids, which accounts for an estimated 5-10 per cent of skin cancer patients.

Always wear UV protective eyewear when outside – all year round.

With an estimated 3 million people globally going blind every year due to prolonged UV exposure, important for everyone to take further steps to look after their eyes, she said.