Sunglasses: A Must for Children and Adults

Over-exposure to UV rays is bad for eyes of any age, but can be especially harmful for the very young. Learn ways to protect the eye health of all of your loved ones.

Sunglasses aren't just a fashion accessory or something that adults need to wear on sunny days. Wearing sunglasses, from birth through old age, can help save your eyesight.

The lens in a child's eye is clear from birth through about age 10. It can't filter out as much sunlight as an adult lens. That means sun exposure can cause more damage before age 10 than after, when the lens begins to get cloudy.

Early exposure, long-term damage
Some studies suggest that 80 percent of sun damage occurs by age 18. Long-term exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is a big factor in vision loss. Studies indicate that too much sunlight may lead to:

  • Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which rob adults of eyesight
  • Skin cancer around the eyelids
  • Pterygia (benign growths on the eye's surface that can block vision)

There are three types of UV radiation: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C.

  • UV-A can damage the macula, the part of the retina that controls central vision.
  • UV-B affects the front part of the eye - the cornea and lens - and can cause even more damage than UV-A.
  • UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and is not dangerous.

Over-exposure to UV-B rays for short periods can lead to corneal sunburn. This can cause pain, a feeling of grit in the eyes and even short-term vision loss. You can get this kind of exposure at the beach or on a ski slope without proper eye protection. For children, this can cause long-term vision problems.

Bright sun and glare also cause immediate problems. Bright sunlight interferes with your vision and ability to see clearly. It causes you to squint and makes your eyes water.

Since proper eye protection helps prevent future vision loss, make sure that:

  • Your kids wear sunglasses, and they understand why.
  • They keep wearing sunglasses into adulthood.
  • You wear sunglasses, too. If you set a good example, your children will be more likely to get into the habit of wearing sunglasses as well.

When to wear sunglasses
Sunglasses are not just for sunny summer days, when UV rays are at least three times higher than in winter. Reflections from snow, water, sand or pavement can intensify UV rays to extremely high levels.

Don't be fooled by a cloudy day. The sun's rays pass right through the haze and thin clouds. When outside, wear sunglasses. Be sure to wear them in the early afternoon when UV radiation is strongest.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says you should wear sunglasses when you take part in winter sports. You should also wear them at high altitudes, where UV light is more intense. Keep your sunglasses on when you take medications that can increase your sensitivity to sunlight.

Are sunglasses enough?

  • Have your child wear a hat along with sunglasses - and do the same yourself. When you wear a hat and sunglasses outside, your child will more likely follow your lead.
  • Give your child a wide-brimmed hat to wear. It will block about half of UV rays and provide extra protection. Even a baseball cap can limit UV rays that hit the eyes from above or around glasses.
  • Teach your children to never look directly into or stare at the sun. Looking at the sun for too long, even during an eclipse, can cause permanent blindness.
  • Try to keep children out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Keep children younger than six months old out of direct sunlight. Baby strollers with a canopy or umbrella can help shield them from direct sunlight.

The AAO suggests that children should have a complete eye exam before the age of five