Why sunglasses are more than just a fashion accessory

Making a statement while saving your eyes? Now that’s a win, we look at why sunglasses are more than just a fashion accessory. 

Sunglasses are an important accessory for many people. Tired new mums swear by them, hungover party-goers live for them, and the fashion savvy wear stylish and sometimes downright zany face adornments daily. 
 
But sunglasses aren’t just to hide a multitude of sins, or to accessorise your favorite outfit they also have ocular health benefits that may help to protect your eyes from a variety of problems.
 
We live in a very “outdoorsy” nation and anyone who enjoys that lifestyle ought to protect their eyes from the sun’s harsh rays or risk a variety of afflictions.
 
“In Australia sunglasses are a necessity,” says Optometric Services manager of Bupa Optical, Karen Makin. 
 
“The advantage is that you can wear something to protect your eyes that makes a fashion statement as well. Interestingly, 60% of adult Australians are concerned about UV exposure, but less than half actually wear sunglasses regularly.”
 
Wearing sunglasses can help to alleviate a variety of issues caused by UV rays.  These issues range from mild daily irritation to serious long term effects.
 
“UV exposure, especially over a long period of time, can lead to the development of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eyes), pterygia (fleshy growth on the eye), macula degeneration, solar keratopathy and even skin cancers of the eyelids and around the eyes.  Even short-term exposure can give eye pain, light sensitivity, irritation and watering eyes,” says Karen.
 
Some of these issues are manageable, but others may need professional intervention. 
 
One of the most common eye issues is the pterygium.  Pterygia (pterygia is the plural) are usually caused by exposure to UV radiation, but also, hot, dry environments can trigger their growth.  
 
“Pterygia are very common in Australia, especially in rural areas and northern Australia.  People such as farmers, outdoor workers, surfers for example, are very prone to developing pterygia,” says Karen.
 
“If the pterygium is not active then the use of sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV (and a hat is good too) may be all that is required,” says Karen. 
 
“If the pterygium is causing discomfort (common symptoms are dryness, irritation, itchiness, redness), then the use of drops and ointment for the eyes can help.
 
“If the pterygium is growing, and threatening the vision (this happens as it approaches the edge of the pupil), then surgical intervention is usually required.”
 
The idea of eye surgery is usually enough to give most people the willies, so hopefully, this will encourage people to protect their eyes with sunglasses, but not all sunglasses will do the trick.
 
Couple on the beach wearing sunglasses

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“The cost of sunglasses does not always relate to their quality, darkness, or effectiveness.  Therefore you need to check the label or swing tag to ensure they conform to Australian Standards,” tells Karen. 
 
But this may not be a straightforward as it seems.
 
Greg McPherson, General Manager of Bupa Optical, said that while sunglasses are one of the best ways to reduce incidences of pterygium and eye damage, current quality and safety levels are not always clearly defined for consumers.
 
“At the moment it’s very hard for consumers to understand the standards and ratings for sunglasses. The current system places the onus on retailers to promote products that meet a certain standard, whereas sunglasses that are low quality or non-compliant aren’t marked as such,” Mr McPherson said.
 
“This means consumers sometimes think all sunglasses offer the same level of eye protection when that is clearly not the case.
 
“This is really important in Australia with our higher levels of UV radiation. Low quality and non-compliant sunglasses may absorb light but allow UV radiation through, which can actually be more dangerous for people than if they wore no sunglasses at all,” says Mr McPherson.
 
 
Bupa, which operates 37 optical stores around Australia, has made a submission to the ACCC Review of mandatory safety standard for sunglasses, supporting the adoption of updated voluntary Australian safety standards. It has also urged the ACCC to increase those standards and help improve consumer education around the quality and protection of eyewear on the market. 
 
“It should be made as clear as possible to Australians that not all sunglasses are equal and people should be able to easily tell when they are buying a dangerous product,” Mr McPherson said.
 
A good pair of sunglasses may provide you an opportunity to make a statement about your personality, but more importantly they may help you to stay in control of your eye health and keep your vision better for longer. 

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