How can you protect your children’s eyes from sun damage?

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Most adults wear sunglasses to protect our eyes against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. But what about your children? “Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause damage to the eye,” says Inge Loubser, optometrist at Mellins i.Style. Try to avoid the peak times of sunlight when the sun’s UV rays are the most intense – usually from 10am until 2pm. Remember that exposure to ultraviolet rays also happen on overcast days.

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Sunglasses for children and babies have become readily available. However, try to avoid toy or poor-quality sunglasses like those you would find in a lucky packet. Cheap sunglasses do not always provide UV protection. In fact, they can even cause more damage as the child’s pupils dilate behind the dark lenses, allowing more UV rays to enter the eye.

Water and sand reflect UV light. This means that, even when children are playing under an umbrella on the beach, their eyes are still exposed to the harmful rays of the sun. The same applies to young children in strollers. Today, most stroller covers offer UV protection. A broad-rimmed ‘UV-proof’ hat will help to protect your child’s skin as well as eyes.

Babies younger than six months should be protected from direct sunlight as much as possible as their eyes are highly sensitive. Also, their skin has not yet developed the melanin pigment that protects them against UV damage.

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From what age is sunglasses recommended?

It can be challenging for young children to get used to wearing sunglasses. However, children will be more willing to wear sunglasses when their parents wear sunglasses. Parents should, therefore, set an example for their children.

Sunglasses are also available for babies. These sunglasses have been designed to fit a relatively flat bridge of the baby’s nose. They also come with a rubber band behind the head to keep the sunglasses in place. Make sure this rubber band is not too tight as it could cause headaches. Also, watch out that the band does not go around the baby’s neck.

How to choose a pair of sunglasses for your child

Will your child use the sunglasses for sports or leisure? When your child needs protective eyewear for sport, like tennis or cricket, opt for a sturdy frame that will stay put during physical activity.

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Also look at comfort and fit, and make sure the frame is not too heavy or does not slide down because it is too loose fitting. Lenses come in various colours. However, there is no correlation between the colour of the lens and the UV protection it offers.

Sun damage to the eyes can be serious

Children should be made aware of the dangers of sun-gazing or looking at other bright light.

Children are curious and often do not realise that they cannot look directly at the sun. It is crucial to teach your child never to stare directly into the sun – not even for a short while and not even through sunglasses.

Children’s eyes get damaged more easily because their pupils are bigger than those of adults, allowing in more light and UV rays. Solar retinopathy is photochemical toxicity as a result of UV exposure. It damages the retina from prolonged exposure to solar radiation. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for sun damage to the eyes. It can take up to a month, or even a year, to improve, depending on the extent of the UV exposure.

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“Children will be more willing to wear sunglasses when their parents wear sunglasses. Parents should, therefore, set an example for their children.”

Talk to your optometrist

BabyYumYum expert, Inge Loubser, says it is worthwhile asking an optometrist for assistance when choosing a pair of sunglasses for your child. This will help to ensure optimal protection against UV damage and a proper fit.

For more eye care tips and advice, visit www.mellins.co.za

Also read: 

7 important signs your toddler needs an eye exam
Eye health in babies and toddlers is closely related to their learning and development