While many parents are careful to apply sunscreen on their children, one risk often gets overlooked – damage to the eyes from UV rays. As the weather continues to heat up and summer travel surges throughout the country, parents should keep in mind that sun exposure can be dangerous for your eyes.
Sun damage can occur in as little as fifteen minutes and is cumulative, meaning it can build over time. What’s more, chronic sun exposure can lead to severe eye issues later in life; such as cataracts, macular degeneration or skin cancer around the eyelids. Children are especially vulnerable to UV rays because they receive three times the annual sun exposure of adults.
Want your kids to have some fun in the sun, but not sure how to keep their eyes safe? Below are five tips from VSP network eye doctor, Jennifer Wademan, OD.
Start UV Protection Habits Early
Begin good eye protection habits and start them early. Educate your kids on the importance of eye health, so they can foster those habits as adults. Make sure you’re practicing those good habits too!
One practice that typically works for kids is making sure they wear sunglasses whenever they head outdoors, no matter the time of year. It’s like wearing a helmet when riding a bike — wearing sunglasses should become second nature when you step outside.
Creating the foundation for healthy eye habits at a young age helps establish a lifestyle that keeps eye and vision health top-of-mind for a lifetime.
Wear Sunglasses Labeled 100 Percent UV Protection
One easy mistake that parents make is assuming all sunglasses are created equal. It’s crucial that sunglasses offer 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays from the sun, but unfortunately, not all frames are trustworthy. Make sure you go to a reputable source like your eye doctor where you can be confident the sunglasses you’re getting will properly protect your eyes. There are sunglasses especially catered to kids, like these from Nike which come in a range of fun colors and are perfect for fashion-forward kids that are on the go. Sunglasses such as these from Converse or Lacoste are also great options. For additional coverage, choose sunglasses in a “wrap around” style to help block UV rays from the sides of the frames too.
Another misconception is that darker sunglasses provide stronger UV protection. Dark lenses without adequate UV protection can actually be worse than no sunglasses at all because they cause the eye’s pupil to dilate, which then increases exposure to unfiltered UV rays. The lens color alone does not affect the level of UV protection, but can result in overall visual comfort and clarity. Gray lenses are a popular choice because they absorb all colors equally, so kids see the world in natural colors.
Wear a Hat When Outdoors
In addition to wearing sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats help shield the entire face and provide further sun protection. They can also limit UV rays that hit the eyes from above or around glasses. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get your little ones to keep their hats on. Provide a few options to get them involved in the process and let them choose their favorite so they’ll feel good about wearing it. Everyone wins. Plus, they look so cute!
Protect Your Eyes While Swimming
The summer season means more time in the pool, but swimming with contact lenses has some associated risks. Swimming pools can contain Acanthamoeba, a type of amoeba that lives in the water, which can get trapped under contact lenses. This can result in very serious eye infections for contact lens wearers and can cause irritation, corneal issues and even permanent vision loss. That’s why eye doctors recommend against swimming in your contacts. If your child can’t avoid the situation, use daily disposable contacts.
Another option is to have your kids wear a pair of fitted goggles when they swim. This helps protect kids’ eyes from chlorine, salt water, bright sun, and allows them to see well underwater without irritation.
Don’t Forget About UV Protection on Overcast Days
Even on days when you don’t see the sun, your eyes are still exposed to up to 80 percent of the sun’s harsh effects. So regardless of the time of year, wearing sunglasses when outdoors is important for your kids’ everyday eye health.
Getting children used to sun protection early is key. If you have any questions, need help getting your kids excited about wearing sunglasses, or notice their vision changing, reach out to an eye doctor for help. Your eye doctor can provide guidance and advice on keeping your family’s eyes safe this summer.
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