As parents and caregivers, we understand the importance of using sunscreen to protect our child’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays. However, many parents may not realize that children’s eyes also need protection from the sun! Fortunately, as your optometrist, we have several helpful tips on protecting your child’s vision while they play outside.
Harmful Ultraviolet Light
We know that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light can be damaging to our health, and this includes your eyes. The sun emits two types of UV rays we should be aware of: UVA and UVB rays.
UVA and UVB rays are not fully absorbed by our Earth’s atmosphere and pose a great risk to your visual health as the radiation can be absorbed by the eye leading to corneal and retinal damage.
Why Are Children at Risk?
The lens of our eye works as a natural defense against UV light filtering out some of the harmful high-energy rays. Children are at a higher risk because their eyes are still maturing and cannot filter out harmful UV rays as effectively. Since UV damage builds over time, it is important to start protection against the sun’s rays early.
Though the effects of overexposure to UV rays are not specific to children, the dangers still apply.
Long-term vision problems include cataracts and macular degeneration which can lead to blurred vision, dull colors, partial or total loss of vision. Prolonged exposure over years may also increase the risk of developing eye growths known as pterygium.
Short-term vision problems include pain, discomfort, excessive tearing, redness, light sensitivity, and photokeratitis which is similar to a sunburn on your eye.
Children often spend a great amount of time outdoors, which is why we want to stress the importance of protecting their vision now from the harmful sun’s rays.
One of the best ways to protect your child’s eyes from the sun is to purchase sunglasses for your child. By having your child wear sunglasses, you can lessen the amount of UV exposure your child’s eyes will have and reduce their risk of ocular UV damage later in life.
We encourage parents to schedule an eye exam for their child before purchasing sunglasses as children’s eyes change quickly and having the right prescription is important to help your child see clearly and comfortably.
When searching for a pair of sunglasses for your child, here are some things to consider:
- Choose sunglasses that protect 100% against UVA and UVB rays
- Frames that wrap around your child’s face add more protection
- Select more durable impact-resistant frames and scratch-proof lenses
If your child wears prescription lenses, consider asking your optometrist about photochromic, or transition, lenses. These lenses change from clear to dark in the presence of sunlight to protect against the sun’s UV rays.
Remember that sunglasses are also needed on days that are cloudy and overcast! We also recommend parents and children protect their eyes when near water, snow, and sand as these surfaces are highly reflective.
There are more ways than sunglasses to protect against the sun’s harmful ways. Use these other tips to help decrease your child’s exposure.
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Apply it 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or as necessary if swimming or sweating.
Seek shade, especially during peak hours of sunlight. If your children like to play in the backyard, consider purchasing a sunshade or canopy to provide some protection against the sun.
Encourage hats that are wide-brimmed to add extra protection from the sun’s rays. This can help reduce the number of UV rays that reach the eyes.
Children follow by example; we strongly encourage parents and caregivers to also wear sunglasses when necessary. As optometrists, we are a great resource when it comes to ensuring healthy vision throughout the year. For more information on protecting your child’s vision or to schedule an appointment, contact St. Lucy’s Vision Center today.