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Five steps to getting the right glasses for light sensitivity

Some eye conditions, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma or cataracts, can increase your sensitivity to light.

As anyone who’s experienced light sensitivity knows, it can cause a lot of discomfort and reduce your sight further. On some days you may find it hard to go out in daylight at all.

Luckily there are ways to help you cope; we explore the five steps to getting the right sunglasses to relieve sensitivity to light.

Regular sunglasses won’t cut it

Managing the effects of bright light can be tricky, you must find the balance between reducing sensitivity while still getting enough light to make the most of your vision.

Regular sunglasses cut the amount of light entering the eye, but if you have low vision this could also reduce your sight. Furthermore, they may not give the relief from glare symptoms that you require.

For some people cutting down on the light level entering the eye helps; for others, cutting out certain ranges of light colour helps more. The best combination varies from person to person and there is no current evidence to say which colour is best for eye conditions. It’s always best to try a wide range to see what works for you. Your eye specialist can show you the range to see which you find best.

Do not choose a pair of glasses based on an advert or on a friend’s recommendation.

Experiment with different light conditions

It’s best to try sunglasses on in the same environment that you suffer the symptoms. For example, if you find sunny days most difficult, try glasses out on a bright day or inside a supermarket with bright strip lighting. If you have problems adapting to changes between lighting conditions, try them on both outside and indoors to see the difference.

You may find that different filters work better for you in different situations. Some patients prefer to have two different pairs: one with a dark tint for sunny days and one with a lighter tint for less bright days. Alternatively, some find photochromic lenses helpful. These lenses change with the light conditions and do so slowly to give plenty of time to adjust.

Get fitted!

A well-fitting frame should sit close to your face comfortably. Eye protection designed for people with sight loss offers more coverage than a standard pair of sunglasses, with top panels and wider arms to block light entering the eye.

Known as "wraparound frames", they often look like sports sunglasses and are designed to protect the eyes from light coming from different directions. Most of the glare people experience comes from above, so some people find that wearing these as well as a hat with a brim really helps.

You can also adapt other glasses to help protect your eyes such as larger "fit-over" frames, which can be worn over a pair of prescription spectacles. Some sports sunglasses can be adapted with clip-in lenses which fit inside.

Your optician will help you ensure you have the right fit.

Check for UVA and UVB protection

All sunglasses sold in the UK should have ultra-violet (UV) filter as standard that will also protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays of the sun. These should have a CE mark (European Conformity) and some may have a UV400 mark.

However, take caution when buying abroad. Even in the UK it’s not always clear whether a pair of lenses is correct to the markings on their frame. To be safe, only buy from responsible stockists. It’s also important to be aware that darkness of a lenses’ tint has no bearing on how much protection from UV they give.

Although UV filters don’t help with glare, it's important to protect your eyes from the sun as there is evidence that high exposure to UVA and UVB are risk factors for the development of cataracts. The best lenses will have protection against both UVA and UVB light.

Find out more about protecting your eyes from the sun.

Seek advice if you’re unsure or your symptoms change

You should be able to try out a range of tinted glasses as well as other equipment to help with daily living at your closest RNIB Products for Life stores. Your local blind society resource centre and staff may also be able to give advice and make suggestions on what may be helpful.

Your eye doctor (ophthalmologist) or GP can also refer you to your local hospital low vision service for more help with choosing the right filters and frames for you. All registered dispensing opticians and optometrists will be able to make filter lenses up to your prescription.

If you notice a change in your sight or sensitivity to light, such as new symptoms or existing ones getting worse, speak to your optometrist or eye doctor - it can be a sign of a change in your eye health. You can find your closest ophthalmologist by searching on the Sightline Directory.