Many people who are blind or have low vision may use sunglasses to protect their eyes from glare, or UV light, or for aesthetic reasons.

It is a misconception that all blind people cannot see at all. Only around 15% of individuals with eye disorders have complete blindness.

Blind people might wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from debris or to signal to others that they are blind.

In this article, we examine why blind people wear sunglasses. We discuss each reason in detail and determine whether people wear them for protection or aesthetic purposes.

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Blind people wear sunglasses for many of the same reasons as sighted people. They may wear them:

  • to protect the eyes from UV light
  • to reduce glare
  • for aesthetic reasons

Sunglasses may also provide some additional benefits for blind people, such as:

  • reducing light sensitivity
  • protecting the eyes from foreign objects such as falling leaves or insects
  • maximizing vision
  • quickly communicating to others that they are blind or have low vision

Many people are sensitive to bright sunlight. It can trigger a natural reflex to squint, reducing the light that reaches the eyes.

However, for a person with low vision, squinting can make it harder to see. Sunglasses reduce the need to squint, maximizing the vision they have.

Light sensitivity also has links with many eye disorders. Some people with low vision may experience extreme discomfort from bright light, also known as photophobia, and this can reduce their ability to see.

As sighted people do, blind people may wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from UV light.

UV rays from the sun are harmful to the eyes and the skin. In addition to wearing sunscreen, all people should wear sunglasses to reduce the impact of UV light.

Constant bright light exposure can damage the cornea, which is the transparent outer layer of the eye, as well as the lens of the eye and the retina, which sends images to the brain. Even on cloudy days, as much as 80% of UV light from the sun can pass through the clouds.

Over time, UV light can lead to eye problems such as:

  • cornea inflammation or burning
  • clouding of the eye lens (cataracts)
  • protein and fat deposits in the white of the eye (pinguecula)
  • tissue growth on the surface of the eye (pterygium)
  • age-related macular degeneration
  • cancers of the eyelid, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
  • melanoma of the eye

Many blind people have some degree of vision. By reducing glare, sunglasses can help people with low vision maximize what they can see.

Glare is a common issue for people with low vision. Overly intense light, such as sunlight on a bright, sunny day, can produce glare when reflecting off surfaces and objects.

People with cataracts often experience increased light scattering within the eye, which reduces the contrast of visual images.

Individuals with glaucoma can also experience issues with glare. Research indicates a link between the severity of glaucoma and worse sharpness of vision under glare conditions.

Additionally, people with macular degeneration may experience sensitivity to glare.

Sunglasses can protect against foreign objects, such as grit, shattered glass, or branches, that may enter the eye during accidents.

This is important because seemingly small injuries and scratches from debris can damage the eyes. If a foreign object damages the cornea, it can be very painful. Abrasions and scarring can lead to further vision loss.

Sunglasses may also prevent injuries to the eyes if a person falls or collides with an object. Blind people can have fewer visual cues to alert them to potential hazards, such as a low hanging branch. This means they have less opportunity to close or shield their eyes if a collision is unavoidable.

People with low vision also have a higher risk of collisions and falls than people with typical vision. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visual impairment more than doubles the risk of falling among older adults.

Some blind people wear dark glasses to communicate their blindness to others. For example, a person may wear sunglasses and use a cane or a guide dog to help them navigate when walking outside. This quickly lets others know they have low vision and allows people to adopt helpful behaviors such as:

  • moving out of the way
  • removing belongings from their path
  • avoiding petting or distracting the guide dog

It is important not to assume that a blind person needs help. If someone appears to be having difficulty, people can:

  • say hello and introduce themselves
  • ask whether the person would like assistance
  • listen to their answer

It is a media stereotype that all blind people wear sunglasses to hide their eyes. Like sighted people, blind people may wear sunglasses for practical reasons or because they enjoy fashion.

However, some people may wear sunglasses to obscure signs of an eye condition. For example, if a person became blind as a result of an injury, they may wear sunglasses to hide facial scarring.

Similarly, some people who have been blind from birth may feel self-conscious that their eyes do not track people or objects in the same way as a sighted person’s eyes would.

People’s feelings about being blind and about their appearance vary considerably, though, and many people do not wear sunglasses for these reasons.

Blind people wear sunglasses for various reasons, many of which are the same as those of sighted people. They may wear sunglasses to protect against UV light, to shield their eyes from bright light, or for aesthetic purposes.

Additional reasons blind people sometimes wear sunglasses include maximizing their vision, protecting against injuries, and communicating their blindness to others. Each person will have different reasons for choosing to wear sunglasses.