New resource helps doctors guide patients to proper sunglasses

March 29, 2016
Patients are not always aware of the risks from exposure to the sun.

Doctors of optometry can be their patients' go-to professionals for more than prescription eyewear, especially as the days grow longer and the sunshine more intense.

A new resource can help doctors guide their patients to the right selection of sunglasses.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has published its 2015 revision of Standard Z80.3, Nonprescription Sunglasses and Fashion Eyewear. The standard, last revised in 2010, applies to over-the-counter eyewear typically used for cosmetic or recreational purposes. National standards are reviewed, and revised as necessary, every five years by experts in the field.

Doctors can use Standard Z80.3 to educate their patients on what to look for in a pair of nonprescription eyewear, says Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., chair of AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards and professor of optometry at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Oregon. Dr. Citek is chair of the subcommittee that reviewed and revised Standard Z80.3. By creating standards, Dr. Citek says, ANSI helps protect the public by ensuring that eyewear are manufactured within allowable tolerances.

"We're responsible for the protection of our patients' eyes—including prescription and nonprescription eyewear," says Dr. Citek, who also is chair of the AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards.

Patients who wear contact lenses, or who otherwise might not wear prescription spectacles, should be told about the need for nonprescription sunglasses. Sunglasses should have the proper tint for the patient's needs and should not affect the patient's binocular vision.

"Doctors need to ask patients, as part of their normal case history, what they do at work or at recreation," Dr. Citek adds. "Doctors should have an awareness of that and be able to guide their patients to what the patient is looking for and make appropriate recommendations."

Shed light on the dangers of nonprescription sunglasses

Patients are often unaware of the risks associated with the use—and, just as often, lack of use—of nonprescription sunglasses. Many factors go into selecting the proper eyewear: ultraviolent radiation (UV) protection, tint, lens shape and how much coverage is provided by the frame. Even where patients buy their sunglasses matters, Dr. Citek adds. Patients should avoid roadside stands and consult their doctors of optometry. Sunglasses that do not comply with Standard Z80.3 may not offer the proper UV protection and may have other optical problems, regardless of how dark the lenses look.

Patients should know the risks: conjunctivitis or sunburn to the eyes or eyelids. Exposure to UV radiation can lead to more serious conditions, such as skin cancer.

"It's like any other sunburn," Dr. Citek says. "It can be very painful, but it also can have long-term consequences for the patient's vision."

View other resources for patients regarding UV protection and shopping for sunglasses.

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