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The Best Sunglasses for Dry Eye Sufferers

Jun 06, 2019

When you have dry eyes, everything seems to make them worse. Your eyes are already irritated, anything like wind, dirt, dust, and even pollen makes your eyes feel more irritated.  How do you continue to look cool and keep your eyes feeling good all summer long?  When you are outdoors, it is important to protect your eyes not only from the elements blowing into your eyes but also from UV light.  Let's discuss your sunglasses.  There are 3 things you want to look for in a pair of good sunglasses: protection, tint, and style. 


Ultra Violet light: 

The first thing you want to look for in a sunglass is that it has the best UVA and UVB protection you can find.  The glasses need to be labeled with a sticker that says at least 98% UV blocking.  The higher the blocking the better.  If you can find it, 100% UVA and UVB protection are best.  UV protection can be added to most prescription lenses.  The protection is colorless, so it can be added a clear pair of glasses as well. 

As you know, UV light is damaging to our bodies.  Not only do the UV rays cause sunburns, but they also cause cataracts and macular degeneration.  Protecting your eyes throughout your life from harmful UV rays will reduce problems later in life. 

Blue Light: 

Blue light is the light we see from electronic devices.  It helps us to set our circadian rhythms.  Blue light is found in sunlight as well and getting enough blue light in the morning time either from the sun or from a light box, can set your body up for a good day. 

The problem with blue light occurs when we either get too much blue light, or we get blue light at the end of the day.  Blue light can actually interfere with our sleep patterns.   Having glasses that block blue light can be beneficial if you are going to be on a computer, phone, tablet, television or digital device within an hour of bedtime.   

Blue light blocking coatings are not usually recommended in sunglasses since you would not be reading outdoors within an hour of your regularly scheduled bedtime.  Well, maybe if you lived in Alaska in the summertime.   



Here, I am discussing the color of the lenses, not the frame.  The two most popular colors are brown and grey.  For the most part, this can be a style decision.  You may choose brown because the color of the lens compliments the frame better.  However, wearing brown lenses will distort your perception of the color red more than other colors. 

Brown Tint

However, a grey tinted lens will dim colors uniformly across the spectrum.  Grey lenses provide less color distortion than brown lenses.  Of course, there are many other colors to choose from as well.  Brown and grey provide the best shade from the brightness of the sun. 

Grey Tint

Yellow lenses are also known as blue blockers.  They can increase your perception of details.  They are also useful in cutting glare both in the daytime and at night.  Many people like to wear yellow lenses when they are skiing because they reduce the glare coming from the snow.  Again, yellow lenses are not very dark, so they do not provide a lot of darkness from the intensity of the sunlight.   

Blue Blockers


The darkness of a sunglass lens is up for personal preference.  Increasing the intensity of a sunglass does not increase its UV protection.  In a dry eye sufferer, I recommend at least 60% intensity.  This intensity will increase comfort while outdoors.  However, it is possible to have glasses that are too dark if you are trying to read something, even your dashboard inside the car.   

Sometimes, it is helpful to have two different levels of sun shades.   A darker pair is good for bright and sunny days.  But, if you live in a place that rains or is overcast a lot of the time, a lighter pair is nice to have to provide UV protection as well as cut glare from outdoor objects.  

You can also consider a gradient lens.  The gradient lens has a darker tint at the top of the lens.  The gradient lens will fade in intensity at the bottom.  You can even find gradient sunglasses that do not have any tint at the bottom of the lens.  This type can be helpful if you do a lot of reading with the sunglasses on. 

Gradient Lenses  

Polarized Lenses: 

Polarized lenses cut glare from water, snow, and glasses.  The lenses make objects more distinct and reduce harsh reflections.  In the summer, polarized lenses are great for water-related activities.  In the lake or ocean, you will be better able to distinguish objects below the water.  In the swimming pool, the glare coming from the surface won’t seem so harsh.  In the car, polarized lenses decrease the glare from the road and other car windows.  The lenses can make driving more enjoyable. 

Polarized Sunglasses

There are a few drawbacks to polarized lenses.  There are 3 downsides to these lenses are darkness, not being able to see digital screens, and color distortion.  First, the darkness of the tint of polarized sunglasses is generally a little bit darker than regular sunglasses.  This may be a benefit while at the pool or beach, but may not be great on cloudy days.  Polarized lenses are available in a gradient tint, so you can again get the lighter tint at the bottom of the lens.   

The intensity of the lens color does not correspond to increased UV protection.  Having a polarized lens does not give UV protection.  A polarized lens will need to have the UV coating added to it just like a clear pair of glasses would.  It is important to read the labels when choosing an over the counter pair of sunglasses to ensure you are getting UV protection in your polarized lenses.  

Second, the polarization can make it difficult to see digital screens.  For instance, in the car, the radio display may be impossible to see without removing the glasses.  Also, the screen at the ATM may be completely blurred.  Depending on the age of your local gas station, the screen on the pump may also blur out while wearing polarized sunglasses.  All of these screens will return to normal when you remove the sunglasses, but if the lenses are prescription you may still have a clarity problem.    

Finally, polarized lenses can cause you to see things that aren’t really there.  You may note color swirls in tinted windows.  This can be disorienting in the car unless you realize the swirls are an artifact of your sunglasses.     


The next thing you want to look for in a sunglass is the style.  The style of the frame can be a fashionable decision as well as a functional one.  In general, a larger sunglass is going to protect you from bad light rays as well as wind and dust.  However, a larger lens can sometimes cause problems for your vision.  Bigger isn’t always better, especially if you have a higher or stronger glasses prescription.  And, if your prescription requires a significant amount of astigmatism protection, a larger lens can distort your view.   

Side protection will decrease the amount of wind, dust, dirt, and pollen that could get into your eyes.  You can increase the amount of side protection is a sunglass by either wearing a pair of sunglasses with a flat front and thick or heavier side arms, or wraparound style of glasses. 

Again, if you have a high prescription or require a lot of astigmatism correction, the flat front, large sided sunglasses are the best option.  Blocking wind and air from the sides is important for patients who have dry eyes, allergies, or work in windy environments. 

Large Sided Sunglasses


This style of sunglasses will distort a prescription. Therefore, it is best used in non-prescription lenses.  This is true if you do not need vision correction in your sunglasses, have had refractive surgery, or you are currently wearing contact lenses.  The wrap style of lens is great for cutting down on unwanted wind, dust, and pollen. 


Wrap-Around sunglasses             Wrap-Around Shield

If you need a prescription in your sunglasses, a wrap style may still work for you.  Some wraparound style frames have prescription lenses that insert into the frame.   The sunglass itself wraps, but the prescription lenses stay flat.  This style is most often found in a sports glass like those made specifically for biking or golf. 

Prescription Wrap-around sunglasses


Clip-on sunglasses are polarized or UV protection lenses that simply magnetically or mechanically clip on to a pair of prescription glasses.  Clip-on lenses that are custom-made for a frame will provide the best coverage and fit.  However, you can sometimes find a pair of mass-produced, clip-on sun lens that will accommodate your current frame.  

This is a great way to add sun protection to your current pair of regular prescription glasses because they are is it easy to remove on and off when you need the UV protection.  One drawback to clip on lenses is that they do not provide any side protection.  So, they are not recommended for people in windy situations. 


Custom-made Clip-ons                                                  Generic Clip-ons

Fit Overs 

The next kind of sunglass to consider if you need a prescription is a pair of fit over sunglasses. These are non-prescription sun lenses that set right over your current eyeglasses prescription. The sunglasses are often bigger than your average pair of sunglasses.  They are purposefully a little bit larger in size so that they can completely cover the prescription frame that you were wearing.   

This style of sunglass can easily be put on directly over your glasses and then taking off again when you no longer need the UV protection.  Another benefit to a fit over style is that they have some coverage at the top of the frame.  This is great if you drive in a car with a sunroof or if you are outdoors without a hat.  

Fit Over Sunglasses

Transition Lenses: 

The last type of sunglass lenses to discuss is transition lenses. Transition lenses are clear glass lenses that are used in prescription glasses.  The transitions capability of the glasses enables the glasses to go from a clear lens to the darkness of a sunglass as it is exposed to UV light.  This type of lens is great for people who spend time outdoors and aren’t able to carry a clip-on or a second pair of sunglasses.  

The lenses transition from light to dark utilizing UV light, they do not get dark if you increase the intensity of indoor room light.  However, they may darken indoors if you are sitting near a window.  Then, they return to clear lenses from the UV light is removed.   

There is a drawback with transition lenses utilizing UV light.  The lenses require sunlight in order to darken.  And, in the United States, the windshield in your car is mandated to have an Ultra Violet filter.  Therefore, the transition lenses do not turn very dark in your car.  This can be problematic if you are the driver.  However, if you are a passenger the side windows of the car are not usually UV protected.  You may not have adequate darkening of your glasses in the passenger seats.  

Transition Sunglasses

Prescription Sunglasses: 

The final type of sunglasses you can use as a dry eye sufferer is a second pair of prescription sunglasses.  You can easily switch back and forth between your clear glasses and your prescription sunglasses when you need them.   

When I wore prescription glasses, I did a combination of things I had a pair of transition lenses in my glasses.  However, these were not dark enough for me when I drove., especially in Arizona.  I would keep the prescription sunglasses in the car, so when I drove I could change them out from the transition glasses.  This system was great for running errands.   I could go in and out of stores with my transition lenses and leave the darker sunglasses in the car.  I am hopeful you will find a combination of UV protection that works well for your lifestyle 

Beyond glasses 

Now, what if you don’t like wearing glasses?  I have patients who tell me this all day long.  Maybe they have had a nose or sinus surgery and don’t like the weight of the glasses on their nose.  There are a few different ways to make your dry eyes more comfortable and still enjoy sunny outdoor weather.   


Sometimes even the darkest sunglasses do not provide enough protection to your dry, sensitive eyes.  It may be necessary to wear a hat if you plan to be outdoors for long periods of time, especially, if you are in direct sunlight.  A wide-brimmed hat is your best choice to give your eyes the best shade. 

Acuvue Oasys with Transitions contact lenses: 

Just this Spring (2019), Johnson and Johnson launched a new technology in contact lenses.  They were able to embed transition technology into a contact lens.  A comfortable, dry eye friendly lens now comes with light-activated technology.   This “Light Intelligent Technology is completely amazing because the contact lens darkens when exposed to UV light.   

Not only does it protect your eyes from harmful sunlight, but the lens blocks blue light from your digital devices and reduces glare and halos while driving at night.  It’s a total workhorse giving you great vision throughout the day.  I did a video while wearing these lenses the week we received them in our office.  You can watch the video here. 

Acuvue Oasys with Transitions


I used to live in Arizona.  Summers are not only hot, but the humidity can get as low as 5%.  Now, that is dry.  When the environment is extreme like this, it is important to take extra precautions.  It is common in Arizona to see restaurants with outdoor seating utilizing misters.  These are little sprinklers that blow a cool mist into the air.  They add moisture to the air, and they also help to keep things a little cooler.   

When you suffer from dry eye symptoms, it is important to protect yourself from adverse environmental conditions.  It is also a good idea to think of ways you can alter your own personal environment.  Adding a humidifier to the room in your house you spend the most time in is a great idea.  Also, there are small personal sized humidifiers you can use at your desk while at work.   

Workstation Humidifier


Summer is here.  Most of us want to be out enjoying the warm weather and sunshine.  Enjoying the outdoors can be difficult for a dry eye patient because our eyes are sensitive to light and wind.  Protecting yourself from Ultra Violet light is very important for dry eye sufferer.  UV light is associated with the formation of cataracts and the development of macular degeneration.  Protecting yourself from these harmful rays is not only important for dry eye sufferers but for anyone helping to keep their eyes healthy. 

When you choose a pair of sunglasses, it is important to keep in mind 3 things: the level of UV protection, the intensity of the tint, and the style of the frame needs to provide adequate protection from wind.  You can also think beyond sunglasses to keep your eyes comfortable this summer and add a hat, light activated sunglasses, and even a humidifier to better enjoy the long summer days. 

If you are finding your eyes are still dry at the end of a long day in the sun.  You should definitely be refreshing the front surface of your eyes with artificial tears.  Find out the best type of artificial tear to fit your lifestyle by using "The Ultimate Guide to Artificial Tears".  You can download your Free copy of the guide here.


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