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Contacts can help block the sun from eyes

SHARE Contacts can help block the sun from eyes

Exposure to ultraviolet rays isn't just a problem for skin. It can also increase the risk of developing eye disorders, including macular degeneration and cataracts, which are two leading causes of vision loss in the United States.

Utah brings plenty of opportunity to soak up sun rays, from the hot summer days to the dazzle of sun-splashed ground on the ski slopes in winter. And much of the state is high-altitude, which increases UV levels.

You prevent skin damage by applying a good sunscreen or sitting in the shade. The eyes, however, also absorb the UV rays from reflections on surfaces, so sitting in shade is not a guarantee you're keeping your eyes safe.

Eye experts have for years counseled their patients to wear UV-blocking sunglasses when outside. But they warn that many sunglasses let rays in through the side or around the top. Goggles close some of those windows, as do hats.

William Bogus, a Salt Lake optometrist, says that UV protection built into contact lenses boosts the protection level significantly. Still, UV-blocking lenses are not a permission slip to throw away sunglasses. They're just a layer of added protection.

"The younger people are, the more ultraviolet light gets into the eye. And those more apt to wear contact lenses are young people, so it provides nice protection for later on down the line," he says of UV-blocking contact lenses.

Vistakon, a division of Johnson and Johnson, claims to offer the best UV protection in its contacts. The company says the best protection comes from its line of Acuvue Advance with Hydroclear and Acuvue Oasys, which block more than 90 percent of UVA rays and 99 percent of UVB rays. Bogus says they're the only ones awarded the American Optometric Association Commission on Ophthalmic Standards' seal of acceptance when it comes to UV rays.

Bogus prescribes the lenses, which are part of a class called silicon hydrogels, "because they allow more oxygen into the eye, are more biocompatible, breathe better and help the eye stay healthier longer," he says. And no, he adds, he's not paid by the company to advertise the product.

Bogus says he sees lots of sun-related damage to eyes, including growths under the cornea, called pterygium. "That's very common in Utah, and we see some form on most people in Utah over age 50."

Ultraviolet rays also exacerbate cataracts.

Prices of the lenses vary depending on who is dispensing them but are "cheap enough to be disposable," Bogus says. They are not, however, intended to be worn too long, which can increase the risk of problems, including fungal outbreaks — rare but nasty, he says. As a lens ages, it loses its ability to transmit oxygen properly, so regular cleaning and replacement is critical to maintaining a healthy eye.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com