MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Not wearing sunglasses leaves your eyes at risk for vision damage.

New research by The Vision Council shows that Miami has the third highest ultraviolet (UV) index in the U.S., yet residents aren’t protecting their eyes with UV-protective sunglasses.

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Data from the organization’s 2014 Sun Protection Survey shows that only 37 percent of Miami residents wear sunglasses regularly and many don’t know that UV exposure can result in long-term issues like cataracts, 25 percent, and age-related macular degeneration, 32 percent.

“Many individuals are unaware that our eyes are just as susceptible to serious damage from ultraviolet radiation as our skin, putting their vision in harm’s way,” said Mark Dunbar, OD.

Dunbar is a medical expert to The Vision Council and director of optometric services at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.

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“Cumulative damage from unprotected exposure to the sun increases risk for serious vision problems,” said Dunbar.

In Florida alone, more than 1.8 million adults over the age of 40 have cataracts and 158,032 adults over 50 have age-related macular degeneration. Without UV-protective eyewear, individuals of all ages can suffer immediate, temporary issues such as swollen or red eyes, hypersensitivity to light and photokeratitis, familiarly known as sunburn of the eye.

“Sunglasses and other UV-protective eyewear are the most effect means of shielding eyes from UV radiation and protecting long-term vision health,” said Dunbar.

The Miami-Dade County Opthametric Association has help for families who cannot afford eye exams for their children.   Exams are offered through the Dr. Bruce Heiken Fund.

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