The verdict? Stay strong! The battle over eye protection is definitely one worth waging.
It is commonplace for adults to wear sunglasses to delay the development of eye conditions that can result from cumulative sun exposure, such as cataracts and macular degeneration. But the majority of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 21, according to Dr. Nischal, and a child’s eye is even more vulnerable to sun damage than that of an adult.
The reason? As our eyes age and mature, the anterior (front-most) part of the eye gets better at shielding the posterior (back) of the eye, otherwise known as the retina. In fact, according to Dr. Nischal, the anterior part of the eye only transmits 2-3% of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) to the back of the eye in a young adult, but 20% of UVR may sneak through to the retina of an infant. So, while certain parts of a child’s eye–such as the eyelids, conjunctiva, cornea, and lens– are just as vulnerable to damage from excessive sun exposure as an adult’s eye, a child’s retina may be more at risk.
“This suggests that lens filters, especially those blocking UVR [like sunglasses], may have a significant effect in children by protecting the anterior segment, retina and eyelids specifically during that time in life when there is maximum sun exposure and the least natural protection,” says Dr. Nischal.
And Dr. Nischal warns that a child’s eye is not just prone to light damage in the summertime: Snow is extremely reflective and its glare poses just as much danger.
So, what types of sunglasses are best?
Search for a pair that blocks at least 99% of both types of UV light: A and B. Other important criteria include comfort and safety when impacted, so select glasses made with an impact-resistant material like polycarbonate, CR39. Seek out pairs with less room around the temples, to protect from additional light exposure.
It is worth the effort to deliberately find shade and invest in wide-brimmed hats, but Dr. Nischal warns that sunglasses are still the best way to block UVR, especially when it is indirect (reflecting off of surfaces).
“If we are all in agreement that sun damage to the skin of the body should be prevented by sun-block creams then it follows that we should do the same for the eyes and eyelid skin,” says Dr. Nischal.
So, stay vigilant. Before heading out for a day in the sun, slather your kiddos with sunscreen, plop on a wide-brimmed hat and add a pair of sunglasses.
For further validation, check out the WSPOS’ recently-published global consensus statement regarding children and sunglasses.
TapGenes Take Away: Strap those sunglasses onto your children without reservation — they may protest, but they will thank you later.
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