We all know we need to wear sunscreen to protect our skin, but what about your eyes? Actually, your eyes — and eyelids — can get sunburnt. Seriously. It turns out most runners aren’t protecting themselves adequately, because The Vision Council reports Americans are unlikely to wear sunglasses while playing a sport or exercising outdoors.
Besides the threat of unexpected sunburn, protecting your eyes should be a general health priority. In fact, you should regularly visit the eye doctor — even during your offseason when you’re not training outside — to know your baseline vision and detect any changes that may occur as you expose your eyes to the sun.
“It is recommended that school-age children and older visit the eye doctor once a year for a routine eye exam to check your vision and the overall health of your eyes,” urges Dr. Cynthia W. Baker, OD, an eye doctor based in Denham Springs, Louisiana. “These exams can help detect the early signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and other diseases of the eye and body.”
Your chances for these diseases increase if you aren’t wearing sunglasses, even on a cloudy day. Dr. Baker explains that even when it appears to be cloudy, the rays from direct sunlight are still present. Any sun that is reflected off the pavement — a surface many runners train and race on — can do more damage than you may realize.
“When the sun is shining on the pavement, the light from the sun is reflecting off the pavement,” Dr. Baker adds. “This makes the light that is reflected into the eyes more intense and causes glare, which can further complicate the condition of the eyes.”
The easiest way to avoid complications caused by the sun is to wear sunglasses every time you go outside (even if you aren’t running). However, finding a running-specific pair helps ensure your comfort and that your performance isn’t affected.
The first thing to consider when purchasing a pair of sunglasses is the level of protection. This should come before you choose style or fit, though those are important factors. The Vision Council notes that there are three kinds of rays that are emitted by the sun — UVA, UVB and UVC — and all of these ultraviolet rays should be blocked by your sunglasses.
“When purchasing a pair of sunglasses, one should look for a pair that blocks 100% of the UV rays from sunlight and that can absorb most high energy visible (HEV) rays,” shares Dr. Baker. “These are important factors to include in your eyewear, because without these elements in a pair of sunglasses, you can increase your chances of developing eye diseases such as macular degeneration or cataracts or growths on the eye called pinguecula and pterygium.”
Once you’ve found the level of protection you need, it is time to focus on the fit, which is something Rachel Schneider, a professional middle-distance runner sponsored by Under Armour and nine-time All-American in track, finds runners may neglect to consider. She notes that casual sunglasses might not stay in place when you sweat, so another priority is finding a pair that stays secure. Your sunglasses shouldn’t hinder your performance.
“Always do what’s comfortable for you,” Schneider adds. “If you find a pair of sunglasses that stay in place and are comfortable while you run, they can enhance performance by protecting your eyes from the sun, preventing squinting and unnecessary tension, strain and distraction.”
One of Schneider’s favorite pairs of running sunglasses is the UA Propel, which include special lenses — TUNED Road lenses — to reduce glare and increase clarity. Under Armour is an example of a company working to deliver both protection and performance wrapped in one, to sharpen your focus instead of create any unnecessary interference.
Once you’ve found your perfect protection level and fit, Dr. Baker urges that you still wear a cap or visor to offer added protection. Additionally, should you have any of the following from any previous sun exposure, you should be sure to see an eye doctor: squinting, light sensitivity, frequent headaches, dryness, itchiness, a burning sensation or difficulty driving at night.