Sunglasses are more than just a cool fashion accessory – if the right ones are worn, they will keep your kids’ eyes protected from sun damage.
Eyes are 10 times more sensitive to UV light than skin – and it’s kids who are most at risk, because younger eyes have larger pupils and clearer lenses, allowing up to 70 percent more UV light to reach the retinas than an adult’s eyes, says the UK charity Eyecare Trust.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), childrens’ eyes are more sensitive to UV absorption and up to 80 percent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV will occur before the age of 18.
Sun damage to the eye is linked to serious problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the industrial world, as well as cataracts (cloudiness of the lens) and pterygia (benign growths on the white of the eye, which can end up blocking vision).
Research has also found that spending five or more hours outside every day in the summer during your teens and early adult years could increase the risk of developing AMD by up to 50 percent. Apparently those with light-coloured eyes are particularly at risk because the less pigment in the iris means more sensitivity to UV.
Which sunglasses are best?
Cancer Society recommends sunglasses that:
- are close-fitting
- wrap around and cover as much of the eye area as possible
- meet the Australia/New Zealand Standard for Sunglasses and fashion spectacles AS/NZS 1067:2003 for sunglasses
Ideally, any sunglasses for kids should bear an EPF (eye protection factor) of 10, which means they exceed the requirements of the Australian standard and may provide even greater protection.
Sunglasses also have a numerical category from 1 to 4 – with 4 being the best. Good quality sunglasses provide the eyes with substantial protection against the sun. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) recommends buying sunglasses that protect against ultraviolet radiation (UVR); sunglasses rated 2 to 4 provide good UV protection.
It is the UVR-absorbing properties of the lenses that provides the protection and not the colour of the lenses – so dark sunglasses are not necessarily more effective at protecting the eyes from UVR than lightly tinted sunglasses.
It is recommended that sunglasses are worn most days when outdoors, even when it’s cloudy, because water, sand, the snow and even the footpath reflect UV rays, increasing the amount reaching your eyes and skin.
The Cancer Society also advises that a broad-brimmed hat can reduce the amount of UVR reaching the eyes by around 50 percent.