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SUN Part 1-Protect offers ways to explain UV dangers

August 2, 2012

Sunglass sales are increasing faster than other vision care products and services, noted John Lahr, O.D., the instructor for the SUN Education Series on the AOA EyeLearn™ optometric continuing education portal. Sales of sunglasses were up 4.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, compared with a 2.8 percent increase for other segments of the vision care market, according to data compiled by the industry tracking service Vision Watch.

However, bronzing lotions and artificial tanning sprays are up a projected 18.1 percent this year, according to a new report by the marketing research firm IBIS World, with sales expected to double over the next five years, making such products one of America’s 10 fastest growing industries.

In the case of both alternative tanning products and sunglasses, the increases come in large part as a result of growing concern over the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the marketing research finds.

Given considerable research showing that people value eyesight more than any other sense, and the longstanding status of sunglasses as a fashion accessory, why aren’t sunglass sales increasing as fast as products designed to protect the skin from UV, Dr. Lahr asked.

He believes it is because eye care professionals are failing to adequately educate the public about the danger UV radiation poses to the eye.

He also believes the most effective form of education is one-on-one consultation with patients in the examination room.

“You know the risks, but do your patients?” asks Dr. Lahr.

Some 91 percent of patients report awareness that UV is damaging to their eyes, according to results of Jobson Optical Research Surveys and the AOA’s American Eye-Q™ surveys. However fewer than one-third can identify eye conditions resulting from UV.

Only about half (48 percent) of patients say their eye doctors have talked to them about the dangers of UV, the surveys find.

Patients generally perceive UV damage to their eyes as “some future distant thing that might possibly happen,” Dr. Lahr said.

The Jobson research finds 79 percent of patients expect to receive an oral summary of findings, in layman’s language, during an eye examination, Dr. Lahr noted. However, Dr. Lahr believes relatively few eye care practitioners provide a simple layman’s explanation of the effects of UV radiation during patient visits.

“Patients need to see that sun protection is vital to them,” Dr. Lahr maintains.

In SUN Part 1 – Protect, the first in a series of three COPE-approved optometric continuing education courses on UV protection being posted on Eyelearn™ this year, Dr. Lahr outlines his methodology for helping patients understand the dangers of UV.

The course summarizes information that optometrists can easily provide patients on UV and high-energy visible (HEV) radiation-related eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and cataract. While the course emphasizes providing UV education for all patients, Dr. Lahr notes optometrists should be particularly diligent in providing such counseling to high-risk patients.

Men with higher levels of UVB exposure are 1.36 times more likely to develop cortical cataracts, studies show. Male smokers were 3.29 times more likely and female smokers were 2.50 times more likely to have exudative macular degeneration.

The widely cited Chesapeake Bay Waterman Study found men with double the exposure to UVB had a 60 percent increased prevalence of cortical cataracts.

Farmers exposed to UV had significant eyelid and conjunctival pathologies compared to controls, the study found.

The course also provides useful tips optometrists can provide to patients on avoiding harmful UV. Skin exposure to UV is generally greatest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while ocular surfaces are generally most exposed to UV from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The course also covers easy ways to help patients meaningfully understand how UV can damage eye tissue and why it poses at least as great a danger to the eyes as to skin.

“The cornea is like skin. The outer layer is the fast growing, made up of easily regenerated epithelial cells. It has the same UV burning susceptibility as skin epithelium,” Dr. Lahr noted.

Launched this past spring (see AOA News, June) the SUN project advocates a three-step program under which optometrists educate patients on the importance of UV protection, prescribe properly protective eyewear and then provide it in the dispensary. By taking all three steps in the course of one patient visit, Dr. Lahr believes eye care practitioners can be highly effective in protecting their patients from the effects of UV radiation. A concerted effort to protect patients from the effects of UV radiation is essential now to help curb a projected upsurge in age-related eye conditions over the coming decades, Dr. Lahr believes.

The SUN Education Series, like all AOA EyeLearn™ courses, is available free of charge to AOA members. Certificates will be issued to those who successfully complete all three of the series modules. AOA members can access the EyeLearn™ education portal at www.aoa.org/eyelearn.

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