Do kids need to wear sunglasses?
This interview is from ABC’s Health and Wellbeing Fact Buster. You can see the whole interview at http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2012/03/27/3459094.htm
The interview features Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists very own Dr Michael Jones, paediatric ophthalmologist, speaking about the importance of children wearing sunglasses in our Australian environment.
The answer to this question is yes. The earlier children wear sunglasses the better they’re protected from eye conditions in later life.
It’s habit to slather kids in sunscreen and pop on their hats before they go out in the sun. But do your kids wear sunglasses? Have you ever wondered if they need to?
Well, kids should definitely wear sunglasses while they are outside, says Dr Michael Jones, paediatric eye specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Sydney Eye Hospital, NSW.
In fact, wearing sunglasses as a youngster can help protect against the most common eye conditions that develop later in life.
We tend to forget that a lot of our sun exposure happens when we are children, when we spend a lot of time outdoors in direct sunlight, Jones says.
UV light from the sun is a form of radiation and it can damage cells in the eye.
There’s no firm evidence that children’s eyes are more susceptible to UV light than adults’. But we do know the longer eyes are exposed without protection the more damage they accumulate from these harmful rays.
Common eye conditions
UV radiation can cause cells on the surface of the eye or inside the eye to divide abnormally.
This can in turn cause the development of tumours, which can be benign or malignant (cancerous).
Eye cancer is relatively rare in Australia with less than 500 cases a year.
Pterygium, or Surfer’s Eye, is a benign growth in the eye that is extremely common in the coastal regions of Australia and is caused by sun exposure.
The growth affects the cornea, which is the transparent dome that covers the eye and helps it focus, and the conjunctiva, which is the thin, transparent tissue that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid.
“If you spend a lot of time in the sun and don’t wear sunglasses the stem cells around the cornea and the conjunctiva don’t stay very healthy and you can get the conjunctiva growing over the cornea,” Jones says.
“We see more of this condition in Australia than anywhere else in the world due to our high levels of sun exposure. Often times they need surgery because they are uncomfortable or affecting vision. You can prevent changes in the eye over a lifetime, so wearing sunglasses should start early,” he says.
Sun exposure is also thought to negatively affect the eye’s lens, which helps refract light, the retina, which is a thin layer of tissue that lines the inner eye and captures light, and the macula, which is part of the retina and is responsible for detailed central vision.
This contributes in some part to diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
How often and how early?
Children should wear sunglasses anytime they are outdoors for a significant amount of time, such as if they are playing outside, and especially when they are in direct sunlight, Jones says.
You don’t have to spend a fortune buying sunglasses for your children, just ensure the pair you choose have standard UV 400 lenses or 100% UV protection.
Novelty sunglasses with coloured lenses aren’t a good idea because they don’t provide as much protection, he says.
It’s never too early for children to wear sunglasses, but it can be difficult to keep them on their faces.
If older children are having trouble wearing sunglasses then the next best thing is a broad brimmed hat that provides some shade for the eyes.
Buying children’s sunglasses with an elasticated band around the back can also help keep sunglasses on and prevent them getting lost.
For young babies, a cover over their pram will help protect their skin and eyes from the sun’s rays.
Putting sunglasses on your kids should be part of the everyday sun protection routine, Jones says.
“Kids get exposed to an extraordinary amount of sun in their early days and it really does have a cumulative effect. We’ve got to make sunglasses part of that slip, slop, slap routine,” he says.
Dr Michael Jones is a paediatric ophthalmologist and works as a staff specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Sydney Eye Hospital.