The weather has turned cold and the nights are drawing in. Winter is just around corner. Although many of you may be packing away your sunglasses until next year, I am not. I am one of those people who wears their shades in December, who many of you think are odd (I can tell from the strange looks you give me!)
So why do I wear sunglasses on a winter's day? Partly out of habit, having lived in the desert for 10 years where you know you need your sunglasses all year round, but I do it for other reasons too.
1. Wearing sunglasses can help prevent or slow down the development of cataracts and macular degeneration (and other eye diseases)
Genetically I am at very high risk of developing macular disease, glaucoma and cataracts. Having seen first hand how losing your vision impacts upon your life, I am very keen to do what I can to prevent this from happening to me - or at least to delay it for as long as possible. I have to have my eyes tested every year to check up on all my risk factors. Optician after optician has told me that wearing good quality UV protective sunglasses is vital to slow down macular degeneration. There is also evidence that UV is a significant risk factor for cataracts. Apparently sun exposure can also lead to lesions and tumors in the eye. I'd like to give them all a miss if possible.
2. To drive safely when the sun is low
I actually think you need sunglasses for driving here in the UK more frequently than you do in the summer, due to the angle of the sun. The midwinter sun hovers not too far above the horizon, even at midday, and can shine in your eyes, or at a bad angle on the windscreen, making it really hard to see. Some good quality sunglasses with polarising lenses make driving much safer in these conditions.
3. Even in the UK, winter sun does create a UV risk
The fact that the sun is lower and shining more directly in your eyes, and that you can get a double dose of UV when it reflects off surfaces such as wet roads, and occasionally snow, means that UV damage to your eyes could be as high in the winter as it is in the summer. I like to get out doors as much as possible during the winter as I need my dose of light to keep me sane. I frequently walk with the light shining straight in my face, just to feel the sun on my skin.
Some people believe that on these days when the sun is not shining directly in your eyes you should remove the shades for 10 minutes to get a small amount of UV on your retinas to lift your mood. I am not sure if this is true, but I do do it sometimes - just for short periods. Otherwise my eyes are kept protected behind their UV shields!
So there you have it. Next time you see me, or someone like me, wearing shades on a winter's day, no I'm not on drugs, nor did I have a hard night, and no one gave me a black eye!
I'm just preserving my my vision and driving more safely.