Are sunglasses enough to protect your eyes from harmful sun rays?

MISSION, Kan. -- There’s plenty of sunshine in the metro this summer, but the UV rays could be harmful to your eyesight.

“It’s not just one exposure that can do a lot of serious damage. It happens over time,” said Jason Pingel, head optometrist at Mission Eyecare.

Pingel said the sun's rays are very powerful and can impact our eyes when we don’t even know it.

“The clouds will block visible light. But we have to remember that ultraviolet radiation is not visible light, so it can penetrate the clouds very easily,” he said.

When that happens, serious damage can be done to your eyes.

“Cataract is a big one. Macular degeneration is another one. Also there’s these things called pinguecula, which are these little yellow growths on the whites of our eyes. Those growths are from ultraviolet damage as well,” Pingel said.

Mission Eyecare patient Ashley Altenhofen said she takes her eye care very seriously.

“I actually have UV protection in my contact lenses, which is really cool,” Altenhofen said.

The 25-year-old is taking the right precautions now to avoid eye problems when she gets older.

“I have light colored eyes, so I know I’m really susceptible to getting cataracts and all that stuff. So I have to be mindful to wear sunglasses or hats or something to help protect my eyes,” Altenhofen said.

But not every pair of sunglasses protects your eyes the same.

“You don’t have to spend $500 on a pair of sunglasses to get good UV protection, but the little cheap dime store $10 ones are probably not going to be very beneficial,” Pingel said.

He said it doesn't matter how dark the lens is or what color tint you have. 

“It has nothing to do with the darkness. I usually tell patients that a decent pair of sunglasses will block light all the way down to 400 nanometers, and a lot of them will be called UV 400 or UV A/B 100 percent,” Pingel said.

The National Eye Institute estimates 20 percent of cataracts in the United States are caused by sun exposure.