UV and Your Child’s Eyes

UV radiation can cause long-term damage to your child’s eyes, just as it can to their skin. Protecting your child now will decrease the potential for serious eye problems later in life. WHAT IS UV RADIATION? Ultraviolet radiation is an invisible component of sunlight, which is most commonly known to cause sunburns and skin cancers, as well as other health problems.  While some UV is filtered by the ozone layer, increasing amounts are reaching the earth as the ozone layer steadily diminishes.  UV also passes directly through clouds, causing year-round health risks. HOW DOES UV RADIATION DAMAGE THE EYE? Bright sun and glare causes discomfort, blurred vision and watery eyes.  Direct exposure to sunlight for even short periods of time can cause sunburn of the eyelids or inflammation of the cornea (like snow blindness or welders flash burns). More importantly, exposure to UV is cumulative and can lead to long-term damage to the eye, including:

Eyelid skin cancer Tissue growths on the surface of the eye (pterygium and pinguecula) that can eventually block vision Degeneration of the cornea Cataracts Age-related macular degeneration

ARE CHILDREN AT RISK FOR EYE DAMAGE FROM UV? YES, children are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of ultraviolet radiation. Children spend more time outdoors and thereby receive approximately three times the annual dose of UV than adults.  In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 80% of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs before age 18.  Additionally, the crystalline lens in children’s eyes has less capability to filter UV than in adult eyes, resulting in greater risk for internal eye damage (cataracts and macular degeneration) later in life.  TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD’S EYES FROM THE DANGERS OF UV RADIATION: 

Be conscious of the daily UV index and the many sources of UV radiation, including direct sunlight and reflections from snow, water, sand and pavement. Have your child wear sunglasses whenever outdoors. Have your child wear a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap when outdoors. Teach your children to never look directly into or stare at the sun. Try to keep children out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Keep children younger than six months old out of direct sunlight – use a canopy or umbrella as a sun-shield when outdoors.

HOW TO CHOOSE SUNGLASSES FOR YOUR CHILD: If your child does not wear prescription glasses, choose over-the-counter sunglasses with:

A close-fitting, wrap around style frame 100% UVA and UVB blocking lenses Impact resistant lenses

If your child wears prescription glasses, consider:

Variable tint or transitions lenses A separate pair of spectacles with tinted lenses and UV400 protective coating DO INEXPENSIVE SUNGLASSES PROVIDE ADEQUATE UV PROTECTION? Tests have shown that inexpensive sunglasses can provide full UV protection, comparable to expensive designer sunglasses, however the quality of the materials and consistency of the tints may be inferior.  Such imperfections can distort vision, causing a mild headache or eyestrain when sunglasses are worn.  To ensure that you receive a good quality product, buy from a reputable professional or retailer. To ensure your child has healthy eyes and vision for life, schedule regular visits to your optometrist for evaluation and preventive care.  Contact the Ontario Association of Optometrists at  (905) 832-9300.