How to educate patients about UV protection this winter

December 18, 2015
UV safety isn’t just a summertime issue.

It's wintertime, which means many patients are planning to head to the ski slopes. And even if they aren't taking a ski vacation, more active people will spend at least some time outdoors.

Now is a good time to remind patients that UV rays can negatively affect eye health—and not just in summer.

The 2015 American Eye-Q ® Survey found that 47% of respondents do not wear sunglasses in the winter months, even though UV rays are harmful year-round. In addition, fresh snow reflects nearly 80% of UV radiation, and UV radiation intensity increases 16% for every 1,000 meters above sea level.

"UV exposure isn't related to temperature," says Fraser C. Horn, O.D., associate dean of academic programs at the College of Optometry at Pacific University and immediate past president of AOA's Sports Vision Section. "If it's sunny or there are thin clouds, you are at risk for UV exposure, and that means you still have to wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100% of UV-A and UV-B rays. And if you are outside in the snow, you need goggles that are protecting against that."

While patients likely know about the effects of UV radiation on their skin, they might not understand its harmful effects on the eyes. Doctors of optometry can help change their patients' behavior simply by educating them.

Having the discussion is key

Dr. Horn urges doctors to bring up UV protection with every patient throughout the year.

"Optometrists have to have that discussion with their patient and ultimately prescribe—the best thing to do is to prescribe—UV protection for when they are outdoors."

In addition to not knowing that UV protection in the winter is important, a large percentage of consumers aren't aware that not all sunglasses are created equal. According to the 2015 American Eye-Q ® Survey , 47% of people don't check the UV protection when they buy sunglasses.

For patients who participate in snow sports, such as skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing, doctors of optometry can discuss specialized eyewear. "Some tints [for goggles] will enhance certain contours when you are in the snow," Dr. Horn says.

In addition, a mirror coating can help reduce the temperature build-up within the goggles. "Some people will say, 'My eyes get hot and I'm sweating in there.' Sometimes just a mirror coating will decrease a little bit of that heat within the goggles," Dr. Horn says.

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