We are frequently reminded through the media and advertising of the importance of sun block lotions to protect the skin from the damaging rays of the sun but what about the eyes? What are the risks and what can we do about it? Do children really need sunglasses? The answer is YES!

What we know about sun damage.

We know that children spend more time outdoors then their often office-bound parents. In fact, we now know that nearly half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation from the sun takes place by the time kids reach the age of 18. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight increases the risk of age-related eye problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. If fact, children are more predisposed to the damaging sun rays as a young lens inside the eye is less able to block UV than an older adult lens. UV exposure has also been associated with growths on the eye surface called pinguecula and pterigia, a common and unpleasant condition for many South Africans and they start in childhood.  

Is it enough to wear a hat?

Playing in shaded areas and wearing a wide-rimmed hat can significantly reduce UV exposure but these methods are not as effective as wearing UV protective sunglasses because UV rays can reflect off a variety of surfaces. Water reflects nearly 100% UV, sand and concrete reflect approximately 25% and reflected UV is virtually as damaging as direct UV. Wearing sunglasses is still the most effective way of protecting your child’s eyes from the sun.

How do I get my child to wear sunglasses and be sun-safe?

·      When you walk outside and feel the uncomfortable glare and reach for your sunglasses bear in mind that your child feels the same way.

·      Start at a young age. This allows kids to get into the habit and the comfort of wearing sunglasses.

·      Have your child pick out a pair of sunglasses they like so that they may be more inclined to wear them.

·      Purchase your sunglasses from a reputable retailer or optometrist. Not only will they advise you to ensure a good fit and comfort but also guarantee the UV protection of the lenses.

·      A good fit is crucial. Ill-fitting sunglasses are less likely to be worn.

·      Bear in mind that inexpensive plastic party-pack sunglasses do not offer UV protection and may do more harm than good.

·      If your child already wears prescription lenses, consider photochromic lenses that automatically become tinted in the sun.

·      Question your child’s school sun policy. Many schools have a no-hat-no-play policy at break time and rightly so.

·      Teach your child to be responsible in the sun even when you are not around to remind them.