For most Americans, eyeglasses are an indispensable part of our daily lives. In the United States, more than 6 out of every 10 adults use some form of a corrective lens – either over-the-counter or prescription glasses or contact lenses. Finding the appropriate glasses for your needs is very important, as they help not only correct our vision but play an important role in protecting our eyes. Consider these protective benefits.

Protecting Our Eyes From UV Rays

It's widely known that ultraviolet rays – both UVA and UVB – from sunlight can cause numerous eye diseases. UVA light has been associated with the development of more eye and skin issues than UVB rays. Research suggests overexposure to UV rays facilitates the development of cataracts, eye, and eyelid cancers and benign eye growths like pterygium (a fleshy tissue on the cornea). If you enjoy snow sports, be especially careful on sunny days, as the intense reflection can cause "snow blindness," which is essentially a sunburn of the surface tissue (cornea) of the eye. Although the effects of snow blindness are generally temporary, the affected person can have poor vision and severe pain during that period. It's also important to remember that even on cloudy days, there can still be plenty of UV rays around. Therefore, the best way to protect against solar damage to your eyes is to wear sunglasses whenever you're outdoors.

What should you keep in mind when choosing sunglasses? The most important thing is to make sure the glasses indicate that they block 99 or 100 percent of UV light. If the label states "UV absorption up to 400 nm," that's similar to near 100 percent UV blockage. The color and darkness of the lens don't necessarily reflect the ability of the lens to absorb UV – therefore, purchasing the darkest pair of sunshades isn't necessarily the best option.

Protecting Our Eyes From Trauma

As an ophthalmologist working at a large inner-city academic institution, we often see patients who come in with work-related eye trauma that could be prevented with appropriate eye protection. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 workplace-related eye injuries occur each year. While most of the injuries don't result in serious consequences, some patients are left with permanent vision loss or blindness.

Without exception, goggles or safety glasses should be worn at all times when working in an environment that warrants eye protection. Protective glasses should completely cover the eyes and not leave any openings on the sides. Sadly, we have seen plenty of cases where a piece of glass or shard of metal had snuck through the tiniest opening in a pair of protective eyewear to lodge in a patient's eye. Safety glasses should also be made of strong plastic material, like polycarbonate. A flimsy pair of sunglasses won't work well to protect a high-impact trauma and may cause more eye damage from broken pieces of the sunglass itself. It's also worth considering protective eyewear when operating a lawnmower or playing sports.

Improving Our Vision

Despite our busy, hectic work schedule, many of us still carve out precious time to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Whether it's eating a healthy diet or exercising, we hope those actions will ultimately lead to a longer, rewarding and healthy lifespan. Generally, though, there is little time or thought dedicated to ways we can improve and maintain our vision. It's possible you could have far-sightedness, near-sightedness or astigmatism. In these instances, you'll likely receive a prescription for glasses. In addition, typically sometime in our 40s, we lose the ability to focus up close when doing near activities such as reading or computer work. This is called presbyopia and typically leads to the need for corrective lenses.

The earliest symptom of presbyopia is an inability to read fine print from a distance of several inches, which improves when the reading material is held out further away from the eye. For some presbyopic patients, over-the-counter reading glasses are adequate for general near reading or handiwork. However, many people will require multifocal lenses to correct for distance, near and sometimes intermediate vision. For those, over-the-counter glasses – which are single vision lenses for near only – will not be able to cover all of their needs. People in this situation will need a prescription for bifocals, trifocals or non-line bifocals (progressives).

Some tips to keep in mind when purchasing eyeglasses include investing in lenses treated with both anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings. The anti-scratch coating will increase the longevity of your lenses, and the anti-reflective coating can minimize damaging sunlight rays and glare, while improving your look by reducing reflection of the lens. For those who want progressive lenses, your optician may steer you away from purchasing lenses that have a small vertical distance, which can limit the range for comfortable reading.

Since glasses often are the first thing noticed on a person's face, they can play an important fashion role. If economically feasible, consider investing in a colorful or fun pair of glasses that will make you feel great wearing them. Keep in mind, not all eyeglass stores are the same. A good optician, who is trained to fit and make your glasses, can also recommend glasses that will best fit your facial structures and lifestyle.

Melissa Yao, M.D., is an assistant professor of ophthalmology and attending physician at Montefiore Health System, Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Dr. Yao received her Bachelor of Arts Degree at Cornell University. After graduating from college, she had a successful research career in the Biotech Industry before deciding that she wanted to have a career with more direct impact on patient care. Dr. Yao then obtained her medical degree from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School / UMDNJ. She conducted her residency in ophthalmology at George Washington University, D.C., and a surgical glaucoma fellowship at Columbia Presbyterian in New York. She joined Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine as an attending physician and assistant professor in ophthalmology. Dr. Yao's research interests involve identifying epidemiological associations of glaucoma and advancing surgical and laser techniques for glaucoma therapy. She enjoys teaching residents and establishing long-lasting relationships with her patients.