UV and Children

Ultraviolet (UV) Light – The Damaging Effect on Young Eyes

Children receive more annual sun exposure than adults because many of their activities are outdoor-based, including school recess, sports and playtime. This increased exposure to sunlight also increases children’s exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) light – an invisible, electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. Children’s eyes cannot filter UV light as effectively as adults’ ocular lenses. This results in children’s retinas being exposed to more UV light and susceptible to retinal damage if they are not adequately protected.

Excessive exposure to UV light can lead to both short-term and long-term eye problems. In the short-term, exposure can result in bloodshot, swollen eyes and a hyper-sensitivity to light. In extreme cases, this exposure can present itself as photokeratitis – which is sunburn of the eye. Photokeratitis can be so severe that it leads to vision loss for up to 48 hours, which can be terrifying for both the parent and the child, but its symptoms will gradually fade and vision will return.

Because UV exposure is cumulative, it is important to begin protection at an early age. Over a lifetime, damage from unprotected exposure to UV rays can lead to eye diseases and conditions that will affect the health of the eyes and vision. Unlike the short-term problems caused by UV rays the long-term damage caused by repeated overexposure will not fade as the symptoms and conditions caused by repeated overexposure appear over a longer period of time.

Protection Against UV Exposure

Fortunately, the solution for protecting children’s eyes from UV exposure and damage is an easy one – outfit them with sunglasses that filter out both UVA and UVB light, and make sure they wear them. Wearing hats and playing in shaded areas help reduce UV exposure, but are not a substitute for the protection achieved by wearing sunglasses because UV rays can reflect off of a variety of surfaces.

Choosing Sunglasses for Children

Two of the most important features parents should look for when purchasing sunglasses for their children are sunglasses that are comfortable and a style that the child likes, because if either of these characteristics are missing, children will not wear the sunglasses or be protected from UV exposure. Another suggestion is to bring children along on the shopping trip so they can feel like they have a voice in the buying decision. All of these actions will help increase the likelihood that children will actually wear the sunglasses they are provided.

Here are additional criteria to consider when purchasing children’s sunglasses:

Top Priorities

  • UVA and UVB protection, often designated by a sticker or label
  • Shop at a credible source; do not purchase from street vendors or online auction sites
  • Comfort, comfort, comfort

Other Considerations

  • Price does not necessarily indicate quality. For children who are more apt to lose their sunglasses, consider purchasing multiple inexpensive pairs to replace lost ones
  • Gray lenses absorb all colors equally and may be a good option for younger children who are still learning how to associate natural colors
  • UV-protective goggles can protect eyes from direct and reflected UV rays

What Not To Do

  • Hats should never be used in place of sunglasses; especially baseball caps which don’t offer peripheral protection
  • Dressing up sunglasses can be fun but limit decorations; don’t let children draw on glasses or place stickers on the lenses. This can scratch the UV protective layer
  • Toy or costume sunglasses are not a supplement to the real thing; they do not have UV protection and can easily shatter or warp, causing more harm to the eye