Take a quick look around any place children and sun come together and I’m sure you will see plenty of attentive parents slathering on the sunscreen to protect their children from damaging UV rays. Yet, few parents are aware that their children’s eyes are much more susceptible to long term sun damage than an adult’s.
According to the American Optometric Association( AOA), children are more at risk from damaging UV rays because the lens on their eyes are thinner allowing more of the damaging rays to reach the retina at the back of the eye. Most of us acquire nearly 80% of our lifetime ultraviolet exposure before the age of 18. Since active children are likely to spend a lot of their time outdoors in the summer it is vitally important that we take steps to safeguard their eyes from the sun.
There has been a lot of public awareness concerning the cumulative effect of UV damage and its link to skin cancer. The same cumulative damage from UV rays can result in permanent damage to the eyes. Exposure to UV rays over a short period of time can lead to a condition known as photokeratitis. Sometimes called sunburn of the eye, symptoms may include the feeling that there is sand or grit in the eyes, excessive tearing and extreme sensitivity to light. This is generally a temporary condition and seldom causes long term damage.
A more serious concern is the damage caused from long term exposure to UV rays. Cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye damage to the retina can occur from cumulative exposure to the sun. Just as the cumulative damage from UV rays can surface years later as skin cancer, UV rays are also responsible for long term damage to the eyes leading to premature loss of vision and macular degeneration in later years.
As with most dangers, individual risks for damaging UV rays varies. It is hard to determine what would be considered an ‘acceptable’ level, or determine when damage may occur. For that reason, the AOA recommends everyone should wear quality sunglasses blocking UV rays as well as wear a wide-brimmed hat when in direct sun for extended periods of time.
Things to look for when choosing sunglasses for UV protection include:
• They should block 99-100% of both UV A & UV B rays
• Screen 75-90% available light with gray lenses to preserve color recognition
• Free of distortions and imperfections
• For individuals needing an impact resistant glasses look for those made from a polycarbonate material.
• Children and others spending a lot of time outdoors should also consider wrap-around style frames for maximum protection.
Prevent Blindness America has declared May as UV Awareness Month to educate the public on protecting their eyes and those of the children for a lifetime of healthy vision. UV rays reflected from the surface of water and sand during typical summer pastimes is especially dangerous to young children who are close to the reflecting rays and often not wearing any eye protection. When you pack your beach bag remember to include both sunscreen and shades to protect your children from the sun!
Children’s Eyes More Susceptible to Long-Term Damage from UV Rays, Prevent Blindness America-Press Release.
Protecting Your Eyes from Solar Radiation, American Optometric Association – online