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Wear your shades

Jackie Jadrnak (Albuquerque Journal) -- Protecting your sight from the sun is as important as protecting your skin.

Slathering on sunscreen and covering up with clothing and a hat are a good start toward protecting yourself from the sun's rays. But don't stop there, the American Cancer Society advised in a news conference Monday. Don't forget your eyes need protection, too.

You can get immediate damage -- sort of like sunburn on the surface of your eyes -- from the sun's glare off snow or the sparks from welders' tools, according to Dr. Mark Wood, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of New Mexico.

And exposure to ultraviolet light over time can lead to cataracts, in which the eye's lens becomes cloudy and difficult to see through. Wood cited a study that showed you are 3 percent more likely to get cataracts for every one degree in latitude you live toward the south in this country.

New Mexico's southern location in the United States, along with the high altitude that intensifies the effects of ultraviolet light, increases the chance for sun damage to the eyes, he said.

The solution? Wear sunglasses, he said, particularly those that wrap around your face and fit snugly on the bridge of your nose. If you're exposed to glare off water or snow, get sunglasses with protective shields that close the gap between the frames and your face to block rays coming in from the side, he said.

Make sure the sunglasses' lenses are rated as effective in blocking ultraviolet light, he added.

In the meantime, don't forget the other protective measures. "Skin cancer is the most common -- and the most preventable -- cancer known," said Dr. Matthew Thompson, dermatologist with Lovelace Health Systems. Protection such as sunscreen and clothing are important not only on sunny days -- ultraviolet light can harm your skin even through clouds, he said.

Albuquerque has been chosen as one of six pilot sites for the Cancer Society's Sun Safe Community program. That program focuses on establishing good habits among children. Most people's greatest lifetime exposure to the sun occurs in their youth, so good behavior established then can help people for the rest of their lives.

The Barracudas soccer team from Placitas and Bernalillo gave a demonstration at Monday's news conference, rubbing sunscreen on all exposed skin. "Put on a gooky mess," Thompson urged them. "If it's only a little bit, it won't work as well. Put it on your face, nose -- don't forget your ears. Remember, the ears get a lot of sunburn."

Then they pulled on sun-protective shirts, hats with generous brims and head-hugging sunglasses. "It's really important to do when you're young, rather than wait until you're an old geezer like me," Thompson told them.

And a person's skin tone won't protect from skin cancer. "People of any ethnic background can get melanoma," he said. "One day last month, more than 50 percent of the people I (surgically) took skin cancer off had Spanish last names."

(c) 2004 Albuquerque Journal

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