Welcome back to Freak-Out Fridays, where health experts weigh in on just how worried you should be about health threats in the modern world. Struggling with your own quandary? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I’m always losing or breaking my sunglasses, so I tend to wear $10 shades. Should I be concerned about their UV-blocking abilities?
Most of the time, you can purchase inexpensive sunglasses and still feel confident that you are getting the protection your eyes need. For quality sunglasses, be sure to find a pair with a sticker, tag, or logo stating that the glasses block UV rays (both UVA and UVB). Most sunglasses found in retail stores, drug stores, and department stores will have labels that say, “Protects up to UV 380,” which means that it meets the guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
In addition to UV protection, make sure to look at the lens of a potential purchase. Some inexpensive glasses have distorted lenses, which can cause irritation and headaches. If you'll be playing sports (or even tossing a frisbee) in them, note that shoddy lenses and/or frames may also be more fragile and provide risk instead of protection from injuries. So, although most sunglasses are fine, sometimes cheap sunglasses are just that—cheap.
I personally wouldn't pick up glasses from an online auction sites, a street vendor, or a second-hand store. These outlets are not held to the same standards as traditional retail stores. And don't let a dark lens in a poorly made pair fool you: Without the guarantee of protection from UVA and UVB rays, they may actually do eyes more harm than good by allowing your pupils to dilate, and transmitting toxic UV exposure into the eye.
If you are unsure of the UV protection in your lenses, take them to a local eye care practice. Many practices can test the level of UV protection of the lenses for you.
Paul E. Michelson, M.D., is the chair of the Better Vision Institute, the medical advisory arm of The Vision Council. He's a board certified ophthalmologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons.