ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 4 (UPI) -- Despite three-quarters of Americans claiming to be worried about their vision being damaged by UV rays from the sun, less than one-third actually buy sunglasses or find another way to protect their eyes, according to new research.
The Vision Council found in a large study that less than half of people in any situation posing potential danger to eyesight wear sunglasses, and most people are more interested in comfort and fashion than protection for their eyes.
Cataracts and macular degeneration, both of which are linked to longer-term eye damage, are just as big a risk as sunburn on the eye, called photokeratitis, or growths on the eye, known as pterygium -- both of which can be caused by as little as a few hours of exposure to intense, unblocked sunlight.
The danger of sunlight to eyes, similar to other health risks from the sun, is in UVA and UVB radiation, which can reflect off surfaces -- such as water, snow, concrete or sand -- and cause anything from sunburns to cancer.
Although there is no shortage of sunglasses that block these rays, attention has to be paid by consumers because not all sunglasses will block UVA or UVB rays, making them useless for protecting the eyes from the sun.
"Many consumers make sunglass purchases based on style and comfort, but when choosing a pair of sunglasses, it's vital to check the label to make sure lenses are UVA/UVB protective," Mike Daley, CEO of The Vision Council, said in a press release. "By highlighting the cumulative and irreversible damage UV overexposure can cause, we hope to encourage Americans to make UV-eye protection an everyday habit to preserve their eyesight."
For the study, published on The Vision Council's website, researchers surveyed more than 10,000 adults over age 18 about sunglasses and their habits when protecting their eyes.
Overall, just 31 percent of people surveyed wear UV-protective sunglasses every time they go outside, and only 39 percent where them if they are outside for two or more hours. Additionally, 14 percent are likely to protect their eyes at an outdoor sporting event and less than half -- 44 percent -- wear them at the beach.
When shopping for sunglasses, while 44 percent consider UV protection a priority, 65 percent consider comfort first and 54 percent consider affordability.
One concern is simply that people are not aware of the danger inherent to sun exposure: Although 51 percent are aware of skin cancer concerns and 42 percent are aware of risk of sunburn, only 31 percent are aware of sunburn in the eye, 26 percent are aware cataracts risk and 21 percent know of age-related macular degeneration.
"UV damage to your eyes can start in as little as 15 minutes," said Dr. Justin Bazan, a medical adviser to The Vision Council. "Many Americans have a 'passive' relationship with their sunglasses, and they don't realize the dangerous health consequences that can occur from overexposure to the sun's rays without the right eye protection."