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Sunglasses an Essential for Kids Too

“Parents are well aware of the need to protect their child’s skin from overexposure to the sun, but they’re surprised to learn eyes also need consistent protection,” says Kimberly Gilbertson, an optometrist at Sanford South University Eye Center & Optical in Fargo.

Children’s eyes are particularly susceptible to damaging rays from the sun. They spend a lot of time outdoors, plus the lenses inside their eyes are more transparent, which lets in more UV light.

The damage can be short and long-term:

  • Single episodes of intense overexposure can cause photokerotitis, a condition similar to sunburn.
  • Many episodes of overexposure over decades can lead to retinal pigment changes that set the stage for macular degeneration, a condition that can ultimately cause vision loss. UV light has also been linked to the development of cataracts.
  • “In the past 10 years, research has underscored the cumulative effects of UV light,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “We now know kids need the protection of sunglasses.”

    Choosing sunglasses

    The most important factor when selecting a pair of sunglasses is UV protection. “Whether you buy an inexpensive or expensive pair, you’ll want to select sunglasses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection,” says Dr. Gilbertson.

    Other factors to consider:

  • Lens type. Polycarbonate lenses are shatterproof, making them the best choice for kids. A gray tint allows greatest accuracy in seeing colors, but no matter what color tint, make sure you can see your child’s eyes through the lenses. If you can’t, the lenses are too dark.
  • Comfort. Wrap-around styles and soft, adjustable straps make sunglasses comfortable for kids of all ages, even babies. Young athletes might opt for sports goggles.
  • Attractive and fun to wear. Today’s sunglasses come in several colors, styles, sizes and shapes. “Involve your kids in the selection,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “If they like their sunglasses, they’re more likely to wear them.”
  • Eye protection is equally important for children who wear eyeglasses. Good choices include clear lenses with UV protection or transitional lenses that darken outside.

    Older kids who wear contact lenses have the option of UV protection built into their contacts, however Dr. Gilbertson does not view these as a replacement for sunglasses.

    “Even though you might have UV-protected contact lenses, you’ll still want to wear sunglasses to protect the outer structures of the eye such as the lids,” she says.

    Make it a habit

    Research indicates only about 17 percent of parents try to incorporate sunglasses into their child’s everyday life.

    “It’s definitely a challenge because kids are so active. Protective gear like sunglasses and brimmed hats might seem like a big inconvenience, but for lifelong eye health, we know it’s worth starting this habit, and starting it early,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “We also know parents can be excellent role models.”

    As you set the example for your kids, keep in mind:

  • The most critical time for wearing sunglasses is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Even on cloudy days, you should be wearing sunglasses during these times,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “UV light is still getting through.”
  • Sunglasses are especially important around water, sand or snow. All reflect UV light.
  • Make an eye appointment

    If your child is due for an eye appointment, call Sanford Eye at (701) 461-5100. Dr. Gilbertson and the American Optometric Association recommend the first eye exam at 6 months of age, with subsequent exams every two years (more often if advised).

    Posted Date: June 2013