As summer approaches, we all look forward to longer brighter evenings, days out at the beach and soaking in those precious hot summer days. The dangers of sun damage are widely known and we know to protect our children’s skin from those harmful UV rays however, we often fail to protect their eyes from those same dangers. Our eyes are a lot more vulnerable to UV damage in comparison to our skin, and with children having larger pupils than adults, much more UV light reaches the back of the retina. UV rays aren’t just directly from the sun in the sky, but can be reflected from a variety of surfaces and this reflected UV exposure can be almost as damaging as direct UV.
It is reported by the World Health organization (WHO) that 80% of the damage to our eyes via UV radiation occurs by the time a child is 18 years old!
Although these dangers aren’t immediate in children, they often dictate the health of our eyes as we get older and become more reliant on our eyesight. Exposure to UV over a prolonged period of time is the main risk factor for Age Related Macular Degeneration – which is the leading cause of blindness currently in the UK. It can also cause Cataracts (clouding of the natural lens within the eye) to grow at an earlier age. The effects of cumulative UV damage to the eye are irreversible so protecting our children’s eyesight and eye health is crucial.
Here are a few tips to follow to make sure you are doing the best you can for your child’s eyesight:
- Wear ‘good quality’ sunglasses – sunglasses are available in a variety of places nowadays, but be vigilant that they carry the European Standard CE mark or the British Standard BSEN 1836:2005 to ensure that the sunglasses offer a safe level of UV protection.
- Ensure the sunglasses fit the child well and feel comfortable – this will encourage your child to wear them.
- Wear a peaked cap or brimmed hat in addition to your sunglasses to stop any further UV rays from entering the eye. This is especially important with young babies – having shade attached to a pram or buggy is crucial.
- Avoid going out in the sun between 10am-3pm, this is when the sun is at its peak and the UV exposure is maximal.
- Toy or costume sunglasses are not a substitute for the real thing; they do not contain UV protection and can easily shatter or warp and thus cause more harm to the eye.
Children in particular love nothing more than playing outdoors in the summer months and as long as they are protected from the dangers of UV radiation via sunglasses, sunhats and sunscreen you can rest assured that you are doing the best for their health and eyesight for the future.
Written by: Richa Patel, BSc MC Optom