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Sunglasses: A Top Tool in the Resource Toolbox for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired and Experience Light Sensitivity

by Amy Gendreau, RDPFS Intern:

Many people who are blind or have low vision experience some degree of light sensitivity. For individuals with certain conditions, such as dry eyes, retinitis pigmentosa, cataracts, and corneal abrasions, photophobia, or hyper sensitivity to light, may occur and can “cause discomfort and even pain.” Many of us who experience light sensitivity spend significant amounts of time orienting ourselves to light sources in ways that cause the least discomfort and inconvenience. For example, in a restaurant, sitting with windows to one’s back can reduce sun glare. Similarly, walking on the shadier side of the street can diminish exposure to UV light, which is especially challenging. Managing bright light can be tricky. It’s important to find the balance between reducing sensitivity while still getting enough light to make the most of existing vision. While sunglasses cut the amount of light entering the eye, if you have low vision this could also reduce your sight. Furthermore, “they may not give the relief from glare symptoms that you require…” Choosing and using the “right sunglasses” can go a long way in relieving sensitivity to light. Following are some tips that can help in selecting a helpful pair of shades:

– Get fitted with a frame that is comfortable;

– Check for UVA and UVB protection from the sun’s rays;

– Consider fit-over frames or other frames that cover the full field of vision to minimize glare and boost protection;

– Check with your eyecare professional or optical provider for specific guidance related to your needs and activities.

To reduce potential damage from sun exposure, it’s also best to wear a hat or visor with a brim for additional protection from UV rays.

So, when heading out this summer, to stay safe whether at the beach, barbecuing with friends, or spending quiet time outside in the garden, remember that all-important pair of sunglasses, a great tool to protect eye health. Read more about light sensitivity on webpages from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) National Library of Medicine coverage of a piece from the Journal of Neurophthalmology Shedding Light on Photophobia; and from The Cleveland Clinic webpage on Photophobia. RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) offers guidance on light sensitivity and protection from it, providing Five steps to getting the right glasses for light sensitivity. For additional information, read the National Eye Institute article on Protecting your eyes from the sun’s UV light and from The Macular Society on Protecting your eyes.