USTA Colorado
3300 E. Bayaud Avenue
Suite 201
Denver, CO  80209


Protection for Your Peepers

April 24, 2015 05:44 PM


Are you safeguarding your most valuable asset?

Here in Colorado, the sun is simultaneously a tennis player's best friend and worse enemy. We have all heard about the devastating effects the sun's UV rays can have on our skin, and most of us can attest to the pain and discomfort of a sunburn. But while you slather on the SPF 50 sunscreen and put on a hat or visor to help shield your face from the glare, you may be neglecting your most valuable asset this summer. Your naked eyes.

In a 2012 survey, less than half of 10,000 Americans polled recognized the health benefits of sunglasses, and 27 percent of respondents reported never wearing them. According to the American Ophthalmological Society, studies have shown that, in addition to skin cancers, accumulated ultraviolet exposure from the sun can heighten the risk of eye diseases such eye cancer and cataracts, a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Intense UV exposure can also cause temporary blindness known as photokeratitis, while extended sun exposure is linked to growths such as pterygium, or surfer's eye.

Kyle Ross is an optician at Sports Optical, a boutique eyewear company located in the Highlands neighborhood of north Denver. He’s also the Manager of Tennis Rx, the specialty tennis optics branch of Sports Optical. An avid tennis player and fan, Ross is highly focused on serving his clientele. 

"If you want to play until you're 80, you should protect your eyes when you're young. If you’re 40 it means now, and if you’re 10 it also means now," Ross says. "I think most players, whether they wear glasses or not, now recognize the importance of protecting their eyes from sun damage.” Fundamentally, whatever your age, UV exposure is proven to accelerate cataracts. “I see mothers rub sunscreen over their kids and then send them into the Colorado sun without eye protection. It’s tragic. I sound alarmist, but kids are just so sensitive and they’re battling something they don’t fully perceive as a threat.”

But Ross also notes that over the past few years he’s seen more, younger children coming in for sunglasses. “We’ve responded to this shift. We have smaller-fitting frames, and with the kids it’s important to make sure they actually like them. We offer fun colors and styles, but we also try to be a fun place and present eyewear as a cool, positive thing. We have a garden, we have toys in our shop, pets are welcome and we give them tours of our laboratory. It’s a dynamic space from which a kid can walk out feeling part of community; it's on us to create this culture of protecting our eyes.”  

Beyond preserving your vision and keeping your eyes healthy, sunglasses can also be a vital game-improvement tool for players. 

"We make very cool, performance-oriented medical devices — which is why they're eligible for insurance/Flex Spending/Health Savings Accounts — with the secondary benefit being the fact that when you see more clearly on court, when you're comfortable and not fidgeting or pushing your glasses back on your face, when you have peripheral vision, and when you feel confident in the way you see and track the ball, glasses improve your game."

What's more, Ross says, direct sun and glare can fatigue our eyes and make it harder for them to follow the ball. Sometimes, eye fatigue makes our whole body feel fatigued, and that's not a good feeling when you're halfway through a tough match. Hats help, says Ross, but most court surfaces reflect a lot of light, which can still damage your eyes and make you feel tired. What's more, both direct and reflected light causes you to squint to help reduce the amount of glare that your eyes have to filter. Even in low light situations — including indoors — glare, reflections and halos created by artificial lights can distort your vision, making it harder to focus and leading to squinting and fatigue.

Still, some players just can't seem to find the right frame or the right lens. That's Ross' specialty, as his company will fabricate custom prescription lenses to fit any frame. Almost any player can benefit from custom glasses, Ross says, from the novice to the professional. "You can always find the guy who walks out onto the court, wearing the latest and greatest Federer signature Nike kit, with matching head and wrist bands," Ross says. "This guy wears brand new shoes that squeak with every step. He arrives at the court with this massive tennis bag and chooses from four newly-strung racquets. But as he reaches down to pull on his knee brace, he has to constantly adjust his ill-fitting, greasy glasses, which keep sliding down his nose. This happens all the time. Eyewear is such an inexplicably overlooked piece of gear in a game that is so visually precise."

A good chunk of Ross' clientele are former high-level players who can't wear contacts and struggle finding an eyewear set-up that meets their demands. They're older 4.5 or 5.0 folks who are losing a touch of crispness, which is usually noticed when they're returning serve. They're good players who are looking for a piece of equipment to match their games. 

"For these players, I usually steer them towards a lens with less light blockage. I'd say a lot of them just end up going with a clear/AR (anti-reflective) set-up, even for outdoors. If they want a sunglass lens, the move is to go with something on the lighter side rather than dark. A dark lens makes things more comfortable, but for higher-level folks they want light getting into the eye for the best performance. Also, with regards to safety, it's important to note that our clear lenses and our sunglass lenses offer the exact same UV-blocking properties as a dark lens, since they occupy different zones of the light spectrum and can be targeted distinctly.”

Whether you fall on the game-improvement side of the fence or are focused on the health benefits of good UV/AR eyewear, Ross is quick to point out the old adage, "You can't hit what you can't see."  

Discover the many benefits of custom eyewear for tennis at the TennisRx website or stop by Sports Optical at 4337 Tennyson St. in Denver. 


Did you know that excessive exposure to the sun can lead to the following eye conditions?

1. Skin Cancer: Up to 10 percent of all skin cancers are found on the eyelid.

2. Cataracts: The World Health Organization reports that, worldwide, approximately 900,000 people are blind because of cataracts—cloudiness in the lens of the eye—triggered by UV exposure.

3. Macular Degeneration: Over time UV light may play a role in damaging the macula lutea (an area of the eye with millions of light-sensing cells, which allow us to see fine details clearly), potentially leading to blurriness and vision loss.

4. Pterygium: This abnormal growth of tissue—also called surfer's eye—may progress slowly from either corner across the white part of the eye, possibly leading to inflammation or disturbance of vision.

5. Photokeratitis: Essentially a sunburn of the eye, it's temporary (healing within 48 hours) but can be painful, causing blurred vision, light sensitivity, and the sensation of having sand in your eye.



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