Contact lens wearers should still wear sunglasses when outdoors. Some contacts offer some protection again ultraviolet (UV) rays but it is nowhere near enough to guard the eyes against South Africa’s harsh sun. This is according to Ruahan Naude, CEO at Dynamic Vision.

“There is a misperception that contact lenses protect the eyes against sun damage. Certainly, some contact lenses have built-in UV protection. However, not all contact lenses do. Conventional, unfiltered contact lenses only block around 10 percent of UV rays and they do not protect the skin around your eyes. 

“Whether you wear contact lenses or not, spending time outdoors puts your eyes at risk of UV damage which contributes to the development of cataracts, macular degeneration, and growths on the skin around your eyes. 

“Going without sunglasses can also lead to eye strain thanks to excessive squinting. Wearing sunglasses will reduce strain on your eyes from glare. A quality pair of sunglasses can help to limit the effects of bright light on your eyes such as headaches, blurred vision or red eyes,” he says.

Protecting your eyes against UV damage is not the only reason to keep wear sunglasses with contact lenses. A lot of contact wearers experience dry eye which comes with unwanted symptoms like a stinging or scratchy sensation in the eyes; sensitivity to light; redness; and watery eyes. Dry eye is exacerbated by wind. 

Wearing sunglasses also offers a buffer for the eyes against wind which often comes with outdoor pursuits, and can help prevent dust and debris kicked up by the wind from settling on or under your contact lenses. This can make wearing your contacts uncomfortable as well as scratch your cornea.   

As not all sunglasses are created equal when it comes to protection, Naude offers this advice: “Your sunglasses should be polarized and offer protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Off the rack, fashion sunglasses will not provide this level of necessary protection. Cheaper sunglasses may block some of the light, causing your iris to open to allow more light in, including more UV light. This can damage your retina more than if you weren’t wearing sunglasses at all. Premium brands always have the UV protection capabilities detailed on the frames. So, always look out for this.”

He points out that by opting for prescription sunglasses, contact lens wearers can give their eyes a break.

“Many people consider it more comfortable to wear a pair of prescription sunglasses than to wear contact lenses to aid vision as well as a pair of sunglasses to stop glare and UV light. Wearing prescription sunglasses means unimpaired vision and even the opportunity to read a book in the sun,” he says.

Prescription sunglasses are available for almost any lens prescription. Lens manufacturers are continuously innovating to produce lighter and thinner lenses, with a range of coatings to address certain vision requirements and support different lifestyles. Lenses are also made to fit a range of frames, which allows consumers to customize their eyewear to suit their vision needs. 

Naude concludes saying: “South Africans love the sun and the outdoors. All of us, even those who are in the sun for short periods, should be wearing protective eyewear.”

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