With the high cost of prescription sunglasses, they may seem like a luxury item, but they should be part of every patient’s eyewear wardrobe even if the price tag makes them a bit nervous.
The obvious reason to prescribe prescription sunglasses is for UV protection.
It’s important to educate your patients on UV exposure. Most patients will are already aware of the harmful effects that UV exposure can have on their skin, but many are less familiar with the damage it can do to their eyes. Chronic UV exposure has been linked to the development of ocular conditions such as pinguelas, pterygiums, and cataracts. 
Although sun-lenses can be put into almost any frame, choosing a specific sunglass frame offers more coverage and therefore protection to the sensitive skin around the eyes. The added coverage with a sunglass frame is also a great reason to make sure your contact lens wearing patients are wearing non-prescription sunglasses.
Here’s a great article and infographic on how to match face shape to frame style to pick the perfect pair of sunglasses.
Although some of today’s contact lenses contain a UV filter, filtered lenses still cannot protect the skin around the eyes, and they are not meant to be replacements for sunglasses. Most patients are shocked to hear that 90% of premature aging, like wrinkles forming around eyes, is due to UV damage, and 5-10% of face or neck skin cancer occurs on the eyelids. [2,3]
I find that with some education, patients are eager to take the proper steps to prevent these conditions, and the cost of prescription sunglasses becomes an afterthought.
Tip: Education on the harmful effects of UV exposure is also a great segue for recommending photochromatic lenses. Essilor reports that 40% of annual UV exposure occurs during times of indirect sunlight.  People are less likely to put on sunglasses in these conditions. Photochromatic lenses give added protection in these situations without the wearer having to switch glasses.
Another added benefit of prescription sunglasses is glare reduction.
Patients that spend a lot of time outdoors or driving in the summer (and/or winter) often complain about issues with glare. Polarized lenses block light that is reflected off of surfaces like water and snow. Unfortunately, polarization cannot be added to clear lenses, it is only an added feature to sun wear. By encouraging our patients to wear sunglasses, we can eliminate reflected glare, help reduce eyestrain, and provide better vision.
Aside from polarization, lens companies have also designed different lenses to provide the best vision in certain environments. For example, Oakley has heavily researched lighting conditions during sports such as golf, cycling, and fishing. From this information, they have engineered specific lenses to filter out certain wavelengths of light. These lenses provide the wearer optimal vision while performing each activity. Asking patients about their hobbies helps you connect with your patients and while also giving you very useful information for prescribing activity-specific sunglasses.
Learn a bit more about polarized sunglasses in this article.
Although a lot of people think of sunglasses as a fashion accessory, and may think the cost of prescription sunglasses prohibitive, it is your job to educate your patients on the many eye health and vision benefits they provide. Patients will be more likely to understand the value of purchasing a good pair of prescription sunglasses once they realize all of their benefits.
- Roberts, J. E. “Ultraviolet Radiation as a Risk Factor for Cataract and Macular Degeneration.” PubMed. Eye Contact Lens, July 2011. Web. 7 Aug. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21617534>.
- Results of International Communication Research (ICR) study of USA, 1002 respondents, 2002.
- Myers M, Gurwood AS. Periocular malignancies and primary eye care. Optometry. 2011;72(11):705-12.
- The Eye and Solar Ultraviolet Radiation: New Understanding of the Hazards, Costs and Prevention of Morbidity. June 18, 2011. Salt Lake City, UT USA.