Summer for children means countless trips to the local pool, beach or river and playing outside for hours. Parents and guardians take painstaking measures to minimize the risks their children face including teaching them how to swim; to look both ways before crossing the street; and to use bug spray and sunscreen.
Don’t forget the importance of protecting children’s eyes from the sun. After all, how often are sunglasses purchased for children? As it happens, kids are rarely found wearing sunglasses, but they need even more protection from the sun than adults. According to Dr. Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, associate dean at The Ohio State University College of Optometry and Medical Director of Realeyes, “children’s eyes have more transparent corneas and lenses than the fully developed eyes of adults. As a result children’s eyes let in more UV light, putting them at greater risk for vision complications from sun damage.”
According to the World Health Organization, up to 80 percent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV is received before the age of 18, yet most people don’t begin to protect their eyes until after that point. People take measures to protect their skin against harmful UV rays, but many fail to realize the effects of the sun on the eyes. Exposure to the sun accumulates over time, heightening the risk for developing cataracts (producing cloudy/blurry vision) and macular degeneration (resulting in loss of central vision).
Protecting a child’s eyes from sun damage is as easy as having them wear sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses can greatly reduce these risks; however, a dark lens does not necessarily have UV protection. The Ohio Optometric Association recommends lenses that absorb 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light. The American Optometric Association suggests that to provide adequate eye protection, sunglasses should:
• Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
• Be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
• Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition
In addition to the harmful rays from the sun, protect your child’s eyes from errant balls and bats, chemicals in swimming pools and flying debris from yard work. Making sure a child wears a helmet equipped with a faceplate to shield his or her eyes when playing baseball, wears goggles in the pool, and stays away from lawn mowers and other dangerous yard equipment are simple ways to help protect their eyes.
In order to educate children on the importance of vision health and teach them how to protect their eyes, the Ohio Optometric Association created Realeyes, a program where local eye doctors present an age-appropriate curriculum in schools, libraries and summer camps throughout Ohio. The 45-minute lessons involve hands-on activities about the importance of vision health and eye protection. Realeyes is offered free of charge through a grant funded by the Ohio Department of Health Save Our Sight fund. For more information or to schedule a presentation, contact the Ohio Optometric Association at 614-781-0708.
Most eye injuries are preventable, but not all eye injuries are reversible. Summer is a good time to revisit the issues of eye protection. For more information about children’s vision or to locate an optometrist in your community, visit www.ooa.org.