Sunglass Options: Polarized or Transitions?

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Mary Schmich wrote, “If I could offer only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” Personally, if I had only one tip to offer, it would be protective eyewear.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays hasten cataracts and macular degeneration.  They can also lead to pingueculae and pterygia — unsightly yellowish or “bloodshot” growths on the surface of the eye which can block or distort vision.

On average, Wyoming towns are sunny nearly 70% of daytime hours, so I always stress the importance of protection against UV rays to my patients. But what type of sunglasses are best?

For the clearest, most well-defined vision in bright sunlight, I recommend Polarized sunlenses. Polarized lenses look like regular tinted sunglass lenses.  However, polarized lenses selectively block horizontally-polarized light, which is the type of light produced when sunlight reflects from horizontal surfaces. This makes Polarized sunglasses ideal for water sports and driving where glare reflected from water, snowy roads, and even dry pavement can be distracting. Polarization is available in either prescription or non-prescription sunglasses. Unfortunately, Polarized lenses can make it difficult to read cell phones or other electronics with partially-polarized displays.

When it comes to convenience, Transitions® brand photochromic lenses rule the day – or daylight, at least. These lenses adapt by darkening under ultraviolet rays when you go outside. Having glasses with Transitions® lenses means only one set of glasses for indoors and out. No changing glasses. And today’s Transitions® get darker quicker than the older photochromic lenses.

Some folks complain, however, that Transition® lenses take a minute or two to lighten again after returning indoors. And car windshields block nearly all UV rays. So the lenses don’t get activated when you’re in a vehicle.

So I recommend polarized sunglasses for driving, but “everyday” eyeglasses with Transition® lenses for all other times. Polarized and Transition lenses are both available for virtually every frame style and prescription.

Clip-on sunlenses can be a bit more cost effective than two separate pairs, and are available polarized. I highly recommend frames that are available with their own clip-ons (such as Magic Clip brand) opposed to after-market “one-size-fits-all” clip-ons that really don’t fit very well.

Of course, even the best UV-blocking sunglasses can still allow harmful UV rays enter the eyes from above or from the sides of the frame. I advise my patients to also wear a wide-brimmed hat or ball cap when possible.

For those who need corrective eyewear, contact lenses such as ACUVUE® OASYS® or 1-Day ACUVUE® MOIST® provide ultraviolet protection when sunglasses and hats are not practical, such as swimming and other outdoor sports. For the most complete UV protection, combine UV-blocking contact lenses, a hat, and sunglasses.

Interestingly, children’s eyes are exposed to about three times more ultraviolet light than adults. Children’s pupils tend to be larger than adults, and children spend more time outdoors more frequently than adults. And ultraviolet damage to your eyes is cumulative over your lifetime. So be sure to equip your kids and teens with sunwear, too!

About Doug Hodgson

Doug Hodgson, OD, MS, is the eye doctor and owner of Frontier Eye Care. Dr. Hodgson's passion is making sure everybody enjoys their world to the fullest with the best vision possible. Connect with Doug on Google+