Choosing the proper shaded eyewear will provide a boost to long-term healthy vision

At the top of the list of occupations with dangerous levels of exposure to ultraviolet light – otherwise known as, you guessed it, sunlight – is that of the truck driver. Along with pilots, lifeguards and ski instructors, you are among the workers most at risk of exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Especially exposed are your eyes, which face harsh strain from hours on the road. Effective eyewear that protects them from UV-A and UV-B rays is as important as any tool you use on the job.

“Any time you’re driving into the sun, you certainly want to have eye protection,” says Dr. John McElligott, chairman of Professional Drivers Medical Depots and medical director of Travel Center Clinics of Knoxville, Tenn. If you wear prescription eyeglasses, he adds, “they need to be prescription sunglasses,” or you should get lenses that fit over your prescription glasses. McElligott says his clinics see one or two patients a week with eye problems. “Occasionally, we’ll recommend higher-end sunglasses that have UV protection if the person is really sensitive to sunlight or they have a light complexion and have more photo sensitivity.”

A couple of points to consider in choosing sunglasses are whether the lenses are glass or plastic and what color the tinting is. Sunglasses with glass lenses can weigh up to three times as much as plastic models. Over the course of a driving day that can add up. Glass lenses, however, are less likely to scratch. Tint color may be a personal preference. Darker shades provide more protection when peering directly into bright sunlight. Yellow is useful at cutting glare from snow, while amber helps provide greater contrast among grass, road markings and pavement. Photochromic lenses darken upon exposure to UV radiation and can be made of glass or plastic. Polarizers and antireflective coatings can be added to your glasses to reduce glare to a greater degree.

Clyde Holmes, of Parma, Idaho, a company driver for Holman Transportation Services of Caldwell, Idaho, bought his $12 sunglasses at a truckstop. “They do a good job of cutting down the glare. I wear them all the time. They’re always with me. If I don’t have them, I get headaches or see glare when I’m driving.”

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Steve Willoughby, an owner-operator driving for Sprinter Trucking of Winston, Ore., says his sunglasses have bifocal lenses built into them. He has a specially designed sun visor on his 2000 Peterbilt, but “it’s not enough to keep the glare away,” he says. He’s considering a bug shield or installing blue tinting on the top and bottom of his windshield to reduce that glare, though he knows it’s illegal. “The glare coming off the nose of the truck makes it hard to see sometimes.”

Lonny Harter, of Yakima, Wash., a company driver for Michael Dusi Trucking of Paso Robles, Calif., says he’s owned Oakley sunglasses with iridium lenses for 15 years. “The glasses provide good vision. Sunlight doesn’t get in below my eyes or from the sides,” he says. “My eyes get tired after driving 500 to 600 miles a day. On occasion, when I leave my sunglasses at home, I’ll have a headache by the end of the day.”

Some tips for keeping your eyes healthy from Boston’s Schepens Eye Research Institute:
·Get regular eye exams. The American Optometric Association says if you have no risk factors for vision loss, schedule eye exams every two to three years until age 40, every two years between ages 40 and 60, and annually after age 60. If you have diabetes, a family history of eye problems or are African-American, you may need more frequent vision exams.
·Wear sunglasses that provide both UV-A and UV-B protection. These sunglasses are especially important when near snow or water, which intensify the sun’s harmful rays.
·Take good care of your contact lenses. Keep them clean and don’t wear them if your eyes are irritated or tired.
·Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins that can prevent eye disease.
·Keep your eyes lubricated. As you age, your eyes get drier, and driving long hours can worsen already dry eyes. Direct the heat vent away from your face while you drive and pack moisturizing eye drops.
·Don’t smoke. Smoking can injure the eyes in many ways, increasing the risk of optic nerve damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and other disorders.
·Any activity, such as driving, that requires your eyes to focus for a long time can keep you from blinking enough. Prevent eye strain on the road by stopping and resting your eyes or washing them with eye drops if they are fatigued or irritated.
·Check with family members to learn about hereditary eye diseases.
·Maintaining a healthy body contributes to eye health. Regular exercise increases circulation and lowers blood pressure, which can decrease the risk of glaucoma.

From Nero to cool
Sunglasses date back to ancient Rome. In the first century A.D., Roman emperor Nero reportedly watched gladiator fights through polished gems. In 12th-century China, sunglasses were first made of flat panes of smoky quartz. Chinese judges used these glasses to shield their facial expressions when they interrogated witnesses. Sam Foster introduced sunglasses as you know them to the U.S. in 1929. Unlike previous versions, his sunglasses were designed to protect people’s eyes from the sun. Foster sold his sunglasses on the beaches of Atlantic City, N.J., and at a Woolworth’s on the boardwalk. Foster later started Foster Grant Co. In 1936, Edwin H. Land, of Polaroid fame, polarized sunglasses, using his patented Polaroid filter. Since then sunglasses not only have protected eyes from harmful sun rays but also have added a “cool” factor to those who wear them.