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Behind those shades

Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement when it comes to eye care.

June 30, 2003|Garret Condon | Hartford Courant

Ray-Ban is promoting three styles of sunglasses "that represent the spirit of each angel" in the sequel "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." These designer shades will share the shelves with sunglasses from "The Matrix Reloaded" and will compete next month with Sama Eyewear's "Terminator 3" sunglasses.

Promoting the use of sunglasses may be Hollywood's biggest contribution to the well-being of moviegoers.

The same people who should be slathering themselves with sunscreen before hitting the great outdoors should be sliding on some sunglasses -- and for the same reason. Overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet light can damage the eyes.

Too much sunshine, over the years, can accelerate the onset of cataracts and lead to macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of irreversible blindness in the United States. In some instances, it can even lead to eye cancer. One rare form of eye cancer, melanoma of the conjunctiva -- the membrane that covers the eyeball and underside of the eyelid -- has risen nearly 300% among white men in the last 25 years.

"You complete your sun block by putting on your sunglasses," said Dr. Paul T. Finger, director of the Ocular Tumor Service at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. And because pigment protects the eyes as it does the skin, those with the lightest skin coloration are at highest risk for eye damage.

In one way, the advice couldn't be simpler: Make a habit of wearing sunglasses. But, before you insert yourself into the matrix of available shades, arm yourself with some information.

To begin with, kids and teenagers should be especially encouraged to wear sunglasses, for two reasons. The first, as Yale cataract specialist Dr. Brian DeBroff points out, is that sun damage to the eyes adds up.

"The exposure to ultraviolet radiation is a cumulative exposure," said DeBroff, who is assistant professor, vice chairman and residency program director at the Yale Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the Yale School of Medicine. Children's "exposure at an early age is more possible -- over time -- to lead to cataract formation."

The other reason is that after age 25 or so, the core of the eye's lens yellows and as a result blocks some of the damaging ultraviolet rays. But UV light flows unimpeded though younger eyes, said Finger. "Everything can go through that young, pure, crystalline lens," he said.

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