Over the past several decades most people have become aware of how damaging the sun can be to the skin. Even though many adults spent hours in the direct sun themselves, they are more concerned about their children. The eyes are a different matter and though most adults wear sunglasses, they aren’t as likely to realize that kids need sunglasses, too.
A survey taken by the Vision Council asked 10,000 adults about their use of sunglasses. About three-fourths of adults reported that they wore sunglasses most of the time but their reasons were surprising. Two-thirds said that the main reason for sunglasses was to prevent glare and only one in six said that they wore them for eye health. In fact, 20% of surveyed adults didn’t believe they were at risk of eye damage. Maybe that’s why even with sunglass-wearing adults, just under half don’t make the kids wear them.
Even with good intentions, most people who don’t routinely wear sunglasses say it’s because they lose them or break them. Children are even more likely to do the same and parents may not always take the time to replace them. In addition, children may be reluctant to wear them because they haven’t gotten accustomed to them yet – kids just don’t wear sunglasses as much, but they should.
We know about sunburn, premature aging, and the risk of skin cancer when it comes to the sun, but we haven’t gotten as much information about what the sun can do to the eyes. The ultraviolet or UV rays of the sun can cause both long- and short-term damage to the eyes. The more UV exposure the eyes get, the more likely long-term damage is to occur.
The most obvious symptom of short-term UV exposure to the eyes is the squinting, teary, irritation that occurs in very bright light, but did you know your eyes can get sunburned? They can.
Photokeratitis is severe eye inflammation caused by UV light. It is the same thing that causes “snow-blindness” but it doesn’t just happen in the snow. It can make the eyes red, teary and swollen – but in severe cases, can result in a loss of vision that lasts for 48 hours or so.
Over time, UV damage can increase the chances of
- Cataracts – the lens of the eye becomes clouded over time. Cataract surgery may be needed to restore vision.
- Pterygium – also called “surfer’s eye.” A non-cancerous growth develops on the surface of the eye which can itch and swell and though it can be removed by surgery – it may come back.
- Age-related macular degeneration – UV rays can cause damage to a collection of cells in the center of the retina at the back of the eye. This may cause dulling of colors, loss of detailed vision or even complete loss of central vision.
- Cancer – just like the skin, damage to eye tissue can increase the risk of cancer which can occur anywhere in, on or around the eye.
Encouraging the kids
When you always wear sunglasses outside, it is easier to encourage kids to do the same. Once they become used to them, they won’t want to go without any more than you do. Here are some other tips to make sunglasses work for kids:
- Choose sunglasses with UV protection - In order to provide eye protection, sunglasses need to block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. This should clearly be stated on tags or labels and it doesn’t necessarily mean that sunglasses will be expensive.
- Let the kids choose – Letting a child pick their own sunglasses, makes it more likely that they will be worn. Super Heroes, cartoon characters, and princess sunglasses work just as well as long as they have UV protection.
- Keep the glasses for them – Anyone who has kids, knows that they lose and break things. Because they are important, sunglasses should be kept with the adult.
Starting early on eye protection can help prevent problems down the line. Everyone needs sunglasses – even the kids.