When dressing up our kids to step outside, we always make sure they are dressed appropriately: they're comfortable in their clothes, their shoes provide protection (and are stylish, too), they are wearing sunscreen, and they have re-applied their mosquito-repellant lotion. However, most of us neglect to protect our kids' eyes.
According to a 2012 survey by the Vision Council, a nonprofit trade association for manufacturers and suppliers of the optical industry in the United States, while 73% of adults wear sunglasses, only 58% of them make their children wear them. It seems that many of us still underestimate the dangers brought about by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.
"Few understand [that] it is the cumulative exposure that can be damaging," says Paul Michelson, MD, an ophthalmologist and the former section chief of ophthalmology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California.
Too much exposure to the sun's UV rays could cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and photoconjunctivitis, among others.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology revealed that 29% of children aged 9 to 11 years old were identified as having early UV damage to their eyes. For the age group 15 to 18 years old, 81% were shown to have eye damage.
"Children often present with early stages of disease — red, inflamed, irritated sore eyes, which is often misdiagnosed as conjunctivitis," Dr. Shanel Sharma, co-author of the study, told ABC Radio Sydney.
"A lot of the damage that is occurring in childhood is just like skin cancer, which is undetectable until later on."
"Unfortunately, so far sunglasses have been made and marketed as a fashion accessory. We look more at how cool it looks or what the fashion stars are wearing, but we really need to be thinking about eye protection so we can protect [against] these diseases, which ultimately lead to surgery," he added.
That's right, mom. Next time you step out with your kids, add "sunglasses" to their arsenal.
When shopping for sunglasses for your kids, experts recommend:
Avoid lenses that do not provide at least 99% protection from UVA and UVB . Lenses with UV 400 protection are ideal.
The lenses are polarized to protect against glare
For maximum protection, have your child wear a cap in addition to his sunglasses. And make sure they stay indoors when the sun is bright and high like at 12 p.m.
If you want quality assurance, check if it carries the "CE" mark, Europe's certification that indicates it conformed to health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold in Europe, or it is approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) also recommends getting eyeglasses with frames that have a wraparound design to minimize the entry of light from the sides.