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UV Awareness Month:

This article might scare you, and we hope it does – just enough to motivate you to wear proper eye protection against the sun.

Most people are aware of the dangers ultraviolet (UV)  light from the sun pose to your skin, while the long-term effects of sun exposure on your eyes are less well-known. UV radiation can damage the internal structures of your eye, causing eye damage and vision loss, as well as threaten the delicate skin surrounding the eye and the lids. 

Before you head out into the sun without full eye protection consider the following risks:

Cataracts:

Cataracts or a clouding of the natural clear lens of the eye which is responsible for the eye’s ability to focus for clear vision, is strongly linked to UV exposure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) up to an estimated 20% of cataracts may be directly linked to UV exposure. Cataracts are the most common cause of treatable blindness around the world. 

Macular Degeneration: 

Macular Degeneration or Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in adults aged 50 and older.  The vision loss occurs gradually and often unnoticeably as the macula – which is the center of the retina responsible for clear central vision – breaks down. While total blindness usually does not result, central vision is often lost resulting in a condition called low vision, which seriously impairs independent living and quality of life.  UVA exposure has been shown to be a cause of macular degeneration. 

Eyelid Cancer:

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, cancers of the eyelid account for 5 -10% of all skin cancers.  Skin cancers of the eyelid which include basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma, can all spread to the eye and surrounding areas, causing eye and vision damage as well as facial disfigurement. If left untreated, they can eventually spread to the brain. When diagnosed and treated early on these cancers have a positive response rate to surgery and follow-up care.

Early warning signs of eyelid cancer include:

  • Chronic infection, red eye, swelling or inflammation that doesn’t respond to medication
  • A change in the appearance of the skin on the eyelid
  • A lesion that does not heal
  • A lump or thickening on the eyelid that may bleed and doesn’t heal
  • A sudden loss of eyelashes

If you have any of these symptoms, they may have other causes but it is best to consult with a doctor as soon as possible. 

Keratitis

Keratitis or corneal sunburn occurs when excessive exposure to UV causes burns to the cornea.  The cornea is the part of the eye that reflect light onto the retina allowing vision.  A corneal sunburn can result in temporary vision loss. Keratitis is known to occur from use of tanning beds and while skiing or snowboarding at high altitudes in snowy conditions where the sun rays reflect off of the white snow into the eyes. Proper eye protection is essential for these environments. 

The best step you can take to keep your eyes and vision safe from UV exposure is to ensure that you wear 100% UV blocking sunglasses any time your eyes are exposed to the sun. Larger framed sunglasses and or wide brimmed sunhats that prevent light from entering on the top and sides are even more effective.  Take the time to ensure you have regular comprehensive eye exams as well to help catch any problems early on to prevent deterioration and save your eyes and vision. 

girl beside balcony

According to the Vision Council’s 2016 UV (Ultraviolet Radiation) Protection report, parents are more likely to wear sunglasses (56%) than their children (only 29%!). Yet children, who spend much more time outside, are typically exposed to three times the amount of sunlight and UV radiation that adults get. This early exposure can lead to serious eye damage and complications later in life.

Children’s Eyes are More Sensitive

Particularly when it comes to children under 10 years of age, a child’s eye is more vulnerable than an adult’s. This is because, in children, the human lens lets about 70% more UV into the eye than in an adult. Further, once the cells of the lens are damaged they cannot repair themselves so the damage continues to accumulate throughout life. While immediate danger may be minimal, early efforts toward eye protection can prevent problems in adulthood. 

Children Have Greater Exposure to UV

At 20 years of age, the average person has received 80% of their life’s UV exposure. Children spend more time outdoors playing, participating in sports and even during recess at school. Since children have more transparent lenses in their eyes and more sensitive skin on their bodies, they are at great risk of experiencing adverse effects of overexposure to UV light. The effects of overexposure to UV light at a younger age may not show up until later in life, with higher risk of cataracts and age related macular degeneration.  This is why it is critical to effectively protect our eyes from the sun.  

UV exposure doesn’t just come from the sun. Sunlight reflected off of water, snow, sand and even pavement increases UV exposure and therefore wearing a wide-brimmed hat is often not enough to protect the eyes. Additionally, children are often looking upwards directly toward the sun at adults and objects that are taller than they are. 

Children Need to Learn Good Habits

The immediate effects of sun damage, such as sunburns to the eye, often go unnoticed, especially by children. Therefore, unlike a serious and painful sunburn to the skin which can serve as a learned deterrent, the risks and results of eye damage are less obvious. Children need to be taught about the importance of wearing sunglasses. This starts with a good example set by parents who should wear sunglasses every time they go outside. Purchasing a good pair of properly protective sunglasses that are comfortable and fit your child, and encouraging their use and care are also essential. 

Selecting Sunglasses for Kids

UV protection is available in some clear lenses as well as sunglasses. The choice can be confusing if you do not have some background information. Not all lenses are equal in terms of UV protection. For example cheaply made UV400 sunglasses have a spray-on coating that can wear off with cleaning and give you a false sense of security.  Also lens distortion and poor frame quality of discount sunwear may cause eyestrain. Ophthalmic quality lenses that provide UV protection and crisp optics should be made to last with good warranties to back up problems that can occur.

There is a plethora of options for children’s sunglasses and a good pair doesn’t need to break the bank. The first and most important criterion is that the lenses block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. You may want to also consider impact resistant polycarbonate lenses for more durability. For smaller children, look for adjustable sunglasses or a pair that includes a strap to keep the glasses in place. Inviting your child to shop with you will help ensure that the glasses are comfortable, fit right and that the child will like them, which can definitely increase the likelihood of the child agreeing to wear them as needed. 

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