Sunglasses And Eye Protection For Kids
As we approach Summer here in Australia, sunshine and warm weather equal outdoor activity and adventure for children. For parents interested in their children’s eye health, it’s also the right time to get sunglasses and eye protection for kids.
Many parents would not leave the house without their sunglasses in the heat of summer, but at the same time they would not give a second thought to taking their children out in the same conditions without eye protection.
Risk of Eye Damage
But everyone is at risk of eye damage as a result of exposure to the sun, and children might be at a higher risk because their developing eyes may be less protected from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays than those of adults.
Wearing sunglasses that block UV rays can help prevent eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration – two leading causes of blindness. Since UV damage is cumulative over a lifetime, it’s important that parents consider eye protection for kids as early as possible to potentially minimise this damage. While cataracts can be removed surgically, there is no way to reverse damage to the macula, the area in the centre of the retina.
Effects of UV Radiation on Eyes
As mentioned above, extended exposure to UV radiation over long periods can lead to some pretty serious damage to eyes. But there are also some short term health effects.
To see an explanation on how sunglasses actually work, and what exactly is the damage caused by UV light, scroll down to the video.
Short Term Health Effects
- Mild irritation
- Excessive blinking
- Difficulty looking at strong light
- Acute photokeratopathy (sunburn of the cornea, or snow blindness)
Long Term Exposure Health Effects
- Cataracts (or cloudiness of the lens)
- Cancer of the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white part of the eye)
- Pterygium (pronounced tur-rig-i-um), which describes the overgrowth of the conjunctiva on the cornea
- Solar keratopathy (or cloudiness of the cornea)
- Skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes
Choosing UV Blocking Sunglasses
Sunglasses must block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays to be effective. The darkness of the lens is not an effective indicator of how well the glasses protect eyes from UV light. Choosing appropriate sunglasses is essential. In fact, some knockoff designer frames may do your eyes more harm than if you’d worn no glasses at all.
Sunglasses Standards – Australia
Within Australia, when choosing sunglasses check the tag to ensure that the glasses meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS1067:2003.
Sunglasses Standards – USA
However in the USA, while the Food and Drug Administration regulates sunglasses as medical devices, they don’t actually stipulate that they must provide any particular level of UV protection. So the sunglasses at the average sunglasses shop can therefore range from wonderfully protective to wholly ineffective.
So in the USA, look for labels and tags indicating that a pair of sunglasses provides at least “98 percent UV protection” or that it “blocks 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays.”
If there is no tag or label, or the label states something vague like “UV absorbing” or “blocks most UV light,” then your best option is don’t buy them — the sunglasses may not offer much protection, and they may actually do more harm than wearing no sunglasses at all.
For the best defence, look for sunglasses that “block all UV radiation up to 400 nanometers,” which is equivalent to blocking 100 percent of UV rays,
Sunglasses Standards – If In Doubt
If in doubt, consult an optometrist to choose the right sunglasses. Obtaining this expert advice can be as simple as visiting your local shopping mall where you are almost guaranteed to find an Optometrist. They can provide affordable and comprehensive eye examinations as well as prescriptions for glasses and contacts.
Sunglasses for babies and toddlers
Sunglasses designed for babies and toddlers have soft elastic to keep them in place. For those that don’t, it is important to choose a style that stays on securely so that the sunglasses arms do not become a safety hazard.
Toy sunglasses are not likely to meet the requirements under the Australian Standard (or the UV light blocking requirements) and should not be used for sun protection.
Note: Some young children may be like or want to wear sunglasses. In this case you can still protect their eyes by putting on a broad-brimmed hat and staying in the shade.
How Sunglasses Work
So how do sunglasses actually work, and what exactly is the damage caused by UV light?
The video clip below by The Royal Institution provides a good explanation.
Many children get a cursory eye check when they visit their pediatrician or GP, but it is important to remember that only an Optometrist is qualified to perform a comprehensive eye examination.
Parents often assume that if their child passes a eye screening, then there is no vision problem. However, many eye vision screenings only test for distance visual acuity, lazy eye (amblyopia) or ‘turned’ eye (strabismus). The vision skills needed for successful reading and learning can be much more complex.
Additionally, children should undergo an eye examination (through an Optometrist) at least once every two years. If there are specific problems or risk factors, then these exams may need to be more frequent. The earlier a vision problem is detected and treated, the more likely treatment will be successful.
Other Eye Protection For Kids
An optometrist can also offer guidance when it comes to eye protection for school age children. 90 percent of sports eye injuries could be prevented by wearing proper eye protection, such as sports goggles, which are designed for impact resistance, unlike regular eye glasses that could break upon impact and possibly cause serious injury.
Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards designed for a particular sport. Ordinary prescription glasses, contact lenses, and sunglasses do not protect against eye injuries, and therefore safety goggles should be worn over them.
A child’s vision is a precious commodity. Eye Protection for kids, regular eye exams and simple guidelines can help you prevent conditions that could lead to permanent vision damage in your children.
For More Information
For more information about eye protection for kids and protective eyewear, visit: