Sunglasses have enjoyed immense popularity for use during sports and recreational activities. Tinted eyewear enhances visual performance in bright conditions by reducing undesirable glare and illumination. On a bright sunny day, the retina becomes saturated and reduces the ability to judge contrast sensitivity. For example, bright sunlight can affect the ability to judge the contours of the green in golf, or the spin on the ball in soccer or baseball.
One of the benefits of filters is returning the retina back to maximal contrast sensitivity, thereby eliminating ‘visual noise.’ Filters are also useful in reducing glare associated with highly reflective surfaces. In addition, proper filters can protect the eye from potentially harmful portions of the blue light spectrum.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been shown to cause damage to the cornea, internal lens, retina and other eye structures. In addition to the threat posed by outdoor UV exposure, the potential eye health risk related to long-term exposure to the blue wavelength light has been cause for increasing concern. Blue-violet light is a hazard if large dose exposure is frequent. The so-called “Blue Light Hazard” is thought to damage the macular region of the retina where we get our sharpest vision. There are many man-made sources of blue light, like smartphones, tablets, computers, compact fluorescent and LED lighting. Consider how much time you spend using these devices every day. There is speculation that extensive blue light exposure can also play a role in the development of myopia (nearsightedness) in children and young adults.
Despite the number of benefits provided by sunglasses, they also have some disadvantages. Sunglasses can have a restricted or reduced field of view, lens surface reflections, frame discomfort, as well as sweat, precipitation and debris build-up on the surfaces of the lens. Due to these and other limitations, sunglasses often are not used in certain sports and recreational activities, such as football, soccer and many water sports. In addition, most filters are not designed to be used indoors with all of the man-made sources of blue light.
Zeaxanthin and lutein are naturally occurring nutrients that can nourish and build the part of the retina responsible for sharp vision. These nutrients create the yellow pigmentation in the macula, which is the part of the eye that provides protection from damaging blue light. Zeaxanthin and lutein essentially help to build “internal sunglasses.”
If the yellow macular pigment is too thin, blue light can penetrate the retina and cause damage over time. Taking vitamins with these nutrients provides an effective natural method of increasing the eye’s defense against blue light, and may offer additional benefits for those who can’t always use proper filters. In addition to the protective effects, these nutrients have also been shown to enhance contrast sensitivity, reduce glare disability and improve recovery from bright sunlight similar to well-designed sunglasses.
The popularity and presence of artificial blue light sources and outdoor activities suggests that most people would benefit from methods to reduce exposure. Well-designed sunglasses and dietary supplementation with zeaxanthin and lutein provide both external and internal protection from the effects of UV and blue light exposure.
Dr. Graham Erickson, OD, is a leader in the sports vision community, having worked with some of the biggest names and franchises in amateur and professional sports. He is the author of the book: Sports Vision: Vision Care For the Enhancement of Sports Performance.