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Protecting Your Child’s Eye Health and Vision from Ultraviolet (UV) Sun Rays
In a child’s imagination, the outdoors is a perfect stage for playing. However, children probably do not give much thought to the harmful effects of excessive sunlight on their eyes. As most know, kids can be rough with their eyewear and sunglasses may fall off during playtime. Therefore, parents and guardians play a key role in reminding children to take precautions against harmful UV rays.
What are the types of UV?
UV rays come naturally from the sun and exist in three forms:
UVA and UVB
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UVA rays account for approximately 95% of UV radiation and are the most common kind of sunlight at the earth’s surface. UVB rays are more intense. Both UVA and UVB rays stronger at higher altitudes and they are easily reflected off snow and ice, reflecting as much as 85% of UV radiation.
UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and are not threatening to our health.
How do UV Rays Damage Eyesight?
UVA and UVB radiation enter the eye and penetrate through the cornea. Unfiltered UV light causes damage to the skin of the eyelid as well as the retina, a nerve-rich lining of the eye used to see over time.
Why is it important for children in particular to protect their eyes from UV radiation?
Children tend to spend more time outdoors than adults. As a result, the average child receives approximately three times the annual UV dose of the average adult. Up to 80 percent of lifetime UV exposure occurs before the age of 20.
A child’s lens cannot filter out UV rays as easily as an adult’s lens, allowing more extensive damage to the child’s retina to occur.
Scientific research show exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years increases the chance of developing a cataract (a cloudy or opaque area in the normally clear lens of the eye). This type of exposure could also cause damage to the retina.
Problems Related to UV Damage
Overexposure to UV radiation can lead to irritating and painful short-term and long-terms effects of children’s eyes. Some warning signs include swelling or redness of the eyes or a feeling of light sensitivity.
One of the more serious short- term consequences is photokeratitis, also known as “sunburn of the eye.” Symptoms include a foreign body sensation, extreme light sensitivity, redness and excessive tearing. This type of damage is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes. Overexposure could also lead to serious conditions later in life including cataracts and macular degeneration.
How to Help Your Children Protect Their Eyes
One of the best steps you can take to protect your children’s eyes is to make sure they wear appropriate sunglasses that provide proper UV protection. It is crucial to purchase sunglasses that are comfortable and practical as they are often engaged in play and other outside activities. It is also important for the child to like the look of the sunglasses as they will not wear them otherwise!
What to Look For in a Sunglass
Block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays
Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
Are matched in color and absorption and are free from distortion and imperfection
Fit close to the child’s eyes and contours to the shape of his or her face. This prevents exposure to UV rays from all sides.
Other tips for UV Eye Protection
Hats should never be used in place of sunglasses as they don’t offer peripheral protection.
Parents and guardians consistently wearing sunglass protection provide the best example.
Be aware of the time of day: The highest risk of UV exposure is different for the skin and eyes. The risk is greater for the skin between the hours of 10am and 2pm. However, for the eyes and ocular surfaces, the risk is greatest from 8 to 10 am and from 2 to 4 pm.
Think of sunglasses as “sunscreen” for your children’s eyes.
All information is courtesy of the American Optometric Association