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Eye Health

As Australians, we are fortunate to live in one of the most sunny countries in the world. It is of little surprise that we have such a love for outdoor sports and leisure activities.

Participation rates in sports such as cycling, walking and running have grown rapidly in recent years and are expected to continue to do so in the years ahead.

All this is good news but we must keep in mind that there is strong evidence linking sun exposure to a range of eye problems.

The use of sunglasses by elite athletes in sports such as cycling, triathlon, golf and sailing is prolific.

And with the recent Tour de France there is no better reason to use the world's biggest bike race as a case in point. This year's event saw the riders cover 3,400 kilometres in 21 gruelling days of cycling. In total the riders spent about 90 hours on their bikes as they all but circumnavigated France.

As I followed this year's tour, I noted that the one thing that we rarely see a Tour de France rider without, other than their bike and mandatory crash helmet, is a pair of sunglasses.

Throughout the 3 week event I saw riders displaying all sorts of innovative and exciting sunglasses – dark glasses for bright sunny days; special glasses for when it rains; glasses for grey and overcast days; glasses with lenses that transition depending on light conditions; and of course casual and fashionable sunglasses.

Sunglasses and cycling go together but behind all the cool designs and sponsorship dollars is a very important reason as to why cyclists are such prolific users of sunglasses. Sunglasses reduce the risks associated with exposure to the damaging effects of the sun.

Links between sun exposure and eye problems have been well-established by the medical community.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world and exposure to the sun is a major risk for their development. UV exposure is also linked to increased risks of cancer of the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white part of the eye) and of the eyelids.

As a professional triathlete, I know first-hand the damage that sun can do to our eyes and skin and it is very rare that I leave home for a bike or run session without a pair of good quality, wrap-around sunglasses.

I take comfort in knowing that a good-quality pair of sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard for sun protection can reduce UV radiation exposure to my eyes by almost 50%.

However, it is not just athletes who need to be cautious about the health of their eyes. As Australians living under a harsh sun, we must all take precautions to protect ourselves against excessive exposure.

So when you find yourself enjoying some time under what Dorothea Mackellar described as our 'pitiless blue sky' then be sure to heed the advice of the Cancer Council and 'Slide on some sunglasses'.

And for optimal safety ensure that you have a pair that meets the Australian Standard for sun protection. Your eyes will thank you for it!

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 11:46
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