Most parents don’t think twice about applying sunscreen to their children to protect them from the sun but what about protecting their eyes? UV rays can have the same harmful effects on a child’s eyes as on their skin. As an Optometrist and a soon to be mother, UV protection in the form of sunglasses should begin as early as infancy and be continued throughout life.
As children tend to spend larger amounts of time outdoors than most adults, a child’s eyes are three times more susceptible to UV damage as their lenses are immature and unable to block as much UV rays. Hence, by the age of 18 years, a child’s eyes have absorbed 80 per cent of the maximum amount of UV radiation a person can safely absorb. Damage to the eye by both UVA and UVB rays are cumulative over the years and the effects are noted later in life with the onset of cataracts (clouding of the eye lens), age related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in Canadians after the age of 50 years), pterygium (tissue growth on the whites of the eyes), photokeratitis (sunburn of the eye), and cancer of the eye, eyelid, and surrounding skin. These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and, in some instances, blindness.
No matter what season or activity, UV rays are present all year-round and can be even more damaging during colder months. Surfaces like snow and water have been found to reflect up to 85-100 percent of UV rays. When I am outdoors, I often notice parents wearing their sunglasses but their children are left unprotected. I believe it’s equally important for parents to encourage their children to develop healthy vision habits by wearing sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. Families can also reduce their exposure by taking extra precautions during 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are most intense.
Not all sunglasses provide the same level of UV protection! Darkened plastic lenses without special UV filters give a false sense of safety as they can often dilate the pupils allowing for more UV penetration into the eye. For proper UV protection, ensure the sun wear you purchase states 100% UVA and UVB protection and skip those that do not offer details about their UV protection. Have children select their own style of sun wear as they are more likely to wear them. Ensure the sunglasses are a good fit and comfortable in order to prevent UV rays from entering the eye. Most optometrists carry children’s sunglasses so it’s easy and convenient for parents to pick a pair out and have an Optician review the fit. The next time that you are in to see your optometrist, try looking for these brands: Baby Banz, Ray-Ban children’s sunglasses, Kensies, Tmx and Jungle animals.
As an Optometrist, I strongly encourage parents of children who currently wear glasses to get Photochromic lenses such as Transitions® Lenses or Zeiss Photofusion lenses that change from clear to dark when outdoors. These lenses are great options for children as most children are unlikely to carry and/or switch between two pairs of glasses. I also recommend fitting children with contact lenses that have UV protection however, as the contact lens does not cover the entire surface of the eyeball, sunglasses are still required.
Do not take your vision for granted after all you only have two eyes. The next time you and your children are outdoors do not forget about UV protection as the effects can last a lifetime.
Biography: Dr. Farrah Sunderji, OD completed her Optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry followed by a residency in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy at the Southern California College of Optometry. Her practice EyedeologyTM is located in the Centennial Clinic, a multi-disciplinary center that practices an integrated approach to health care in downtown Calgary. #245, 520 3rd avenue SW Calgary, AB T2P0R3. For more information on children’s vision check out her website at www.eyedeology.ca