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Protect Kids’ Eyes

Protect Kids’ Eyes

Why Sunglasses Are Important Year-Round

You’ve packed your bags for spring break, printed your tickets, and found someone to look after the dog. You even remembered to buy new sunscreen. But did you remember your sunglasses? And how about a pair for your child?

Although many of us still associate the need for sunglasses with summer, the sun is intense year-round, and be assured of this: Sunglasses are just as important as sunscreen. When CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a serious case of eye damage from bright sun exposure last winter, the problem was brought into focus.

The UVA and UVB rays which can burn the skin can also burn the eyes – sometimes causing permanent damage. The glare and reflection of sunlight off the water or snow-covered slopes (for spring skiers!) Can exacerbate the effects of the exposure, resulting in serious health issues.

The front of the eye is very vulnerable to the sun’s rays. After spending long days at the beach, on the water, or in the snow, without eye protection, UVA and UVB rays can temporarily burn the eye. Sunburns of the eye, or photokeratitis, cause discomfort, tearing, a sensation of dryness and burning, and occasionally, what’s referred to as snow-blindness. If this happens, your child may complain that everything seems too bright, and pain may begin several hours later.

Like a skin sunburn, snow-blindness will gradually improve over two or three days, but there is good evidence that damage may be cumulative and repeated burns may lead to severe vision problems later in life. Fortunately, there is an easy way to prevent this – and it can be fun, too.

Sunglasses for kids are a simple answer to a complex question. Awareness of eye health has led to the development of specially-designed sunglasses for infants, and children of all ages, taking function, safety, and style into consideration.

While style may not be at the top of your list for your baby or young child, the glasses must be comfortable or you may have a battle getting them worn. Glasses for small kids are available with soft foam backing and a comfortable neoprene or other gentle but sturdy headband. Bright colors and patterns and cool styles make the glasses more attractive to kids.

Older kids value style – and there are lots of choices. One key to ensuring regular wear is to let the kids select their own style of sunglasses; they may not be something you would wear, but you’re not going to wear them. Kids involved in athletics, or those who ski or participate in other outdoor activities can also choose from specially-designed goggle-type sunglasses which resist fogging during heavy practice or play.

For parents of kids of all ages, there are a few important things to remember:

• Make sure the lenses protect against 99-100 percent of UVB and UVA rays.

• Wrap-around styles offer the best protection.

• Choose flexible, unbreakable frames and impact-resistant, scratchproof lenses.

• Regularly inspect the glasses to make sure there are no scratches or other damage.

• Be sure your child wears a head covering that shades the eyes and face.

Maintaining your child’s eye health is one of the best gifts you can give them, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to protect their eyes – year-round. Remember that your child’s eyes are even more vulnerable than yours.

Ed Wortham V, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist and a father. He has helped children in Richmond see better, and their parents feel better about eye care since 1996.

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