Protecting Young Eyes - My Family Travels

FTF’s resident doctor explains how early eye protection measures can prevent eye and eyelid damage from occuring during a child’s adult years.

You’re aware of the need to protect your child’s skin from the damaging rays of the sun, but what about shielding their eyes?

Adults commonly wear sunglasses to protect their eyes against the sun. But children’s eyes are more sensitive; left unprotected, they can be severely damaged by sun exposure. The main culprits are the same ultraviolet lights that cause sunburned skin. UVB rays mainly produce redness and superficial burning, but UVA rays can cause deep, penetrating damage.

Eyes can also suffer “skin” damage, called pingueculum. This may appear as a horizontal red stripe with mild yellow discoloration over the middle part of the eye when the eyelids are held apart.
Since the cornea does not normally contain blood vessels, it does not suffer this kind of burn reaction. However, sun injury to the cornea can result in a growth known as a ptergyium, which may cause mild, chronic irritation, and may require surgical removal in some cases.

Eye Protection: A Lifelong Habit

Some doctors believe that sun damage in childhood may contribute to the development of macular degeneration—vision loss in later life that is the result of damage to the retina (light sensitive cells lining the inside of the eyes). And there is confirmation that exposure to large amounts of UV light can increase the chance of cataracts. It’s possible that many seniors could avoid cataract surgery if UV protection was instituted at an early age.

Burn Protection & Prevention

A good pair of sunglasses can protect children’s eyes. Look for one of the following: a label that says the glasses block 99% or 100% of ultraviolet rays, or have a UV absorption of up to 400 nm. Eyes are protected from UV rays by a special chemical that is added to the lens when it is made, not by the darkness of the lenses. In fact, dark, polarized or mirrored lenses (without UV protection) make the pupil larger and permit more UV light to get into the eye.

While some sunglasses may offer great protection while out in the sun, the threat of UV rays is still present on those partly cloudy days. During overcast weather, UV rays penetrate through clouds and can still harm our eyes and skin. Photochromic lenses (commonly known as “transitional lenses”) offer a solution to the various UV levels we face throughout the day. The tint of these lenses changes depending on the amount of UV radiation present, allowing for even greater limits to sun exposure under all levels of sunlight and at every time of year.

Also, sunglasses do not protect against short-term high intensity exposures, so it’s important to teach children not to look directly at the sun. To protect against skin cancer of the eyelids (also common in seniors), ensure that children wear UV blocking sunglasses and try to avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 3 pm. Hats with brims that shade the eyes are another time-honored deterrent.

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