Study finds that frequently being outdoors poses higher risk for eye syndromes

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LEAWOOD, Kan.  -- Being outdoors a lot may increase the chances of an eye syndrome that's linked to cataracts and glaucoma. But there is a way to cut your risk and look good, too.

Harvard researchers looked at how much time people spent outside during the summer. For every hour per week, averaged over a lifetime, there was a four percent increase in something called exfoliation syndrome. Material on the capsule of the eye's natural lens sloughs off. That can lead to cataracts and glaucoma.

"The material, a lot of it, can get clogged up into the internal drainage system," said Dr. Komal Desai of Sabates Eye Centers, referring to the glaucoma risk.

The ophthalmologist says workers such as welders, who are exposed to a lot of heat, are at higher risk for exfoliation syndrome. But this study suggests just spending a lot of time outdoors boosts your chances, too.

"Now, with the amount of radiation we see from sun exposure, that can cause a lot of direct impact on the eye," said Dr. Desai.

But the risk of the eye syndrome was lower in those who wore sunglasses. It's something George Melling admits he didn't often do.

"Obviously not like I should of. I was nearsighted so for years, I didn't have prescription sunglasses," said Melling.

Now that he's had cataracts, he's wearing them.

Dr. Desai recommends the polarized wrap-around style, but says any sunglasses with protection from ultraviolet A and B rays are fine. Just wear them.

"It's sunblock for the eyes. So you have to have sunglasses," she said.

The doctor says you need them to protect your eyes from sight-stealing conditions.

Just wearing a wide-brimmed hat didn't lower the chances of the eye syndrome. The study is published in JAMA Ophthalmology.