Why Parents and Kids Should Wear Sunglasses

June 21, 2013

While the latest trends in fashion sunglasses can be quite appealing, we should remember that they're our one of our best defenses against eye-damaging UV Rays. In fact, you even young folks should wear sunglasses every day. Why? When we are young, we spend more time outdoors than the typical adult. This means kids eyes are typically exposed to more ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun than adults are.

3 kids with sunglasses

We all know that too much exposure to UV rays can cause sunburn. But sun exposure also can contribute to a number of serious eye problems that may not become apparent until we are much older.

The Evils Under the Sun

Many studies suggest that UV rays cause cataracts. In one study of 838 fishermen, researchers concluded that individuals who did not wear sunglasses or brimmed hats had three times as many cataracts as those who did.*

baby with polka dot glasses

UV radiation from sunlight also can damage the cornea. Even your eyelids are at risk because the delicate tissues around the eyes are more susceptible to UV-related skin cancer than other areas of the body. Whether outside on a playground or riding in a car, it's a great idea to protect even the youngest eyes from the sun.

Some eye specialists are also concerned about short-wavelength visible light (sometimes called "blue light"), another component of sunlight. Blue light is similar to UV, but with slightly less energy. Long-term exposure to blue light may contribute to macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 55.

Everyone's eyes need extra protection during the summer, particularly at midday when UV rays are most intense. Also, be extra careful if you are vacationing in the Caribbean (and other tropical areas) or if you're skiing or mountain climbing. UV rays are more intense the closer you are to the earth's equator and the higher you go in altitute.

Also, be aware that sunlight and UV rays "bounce" off reflective surfaces. Water and sand is particularly reflective, so always wear sunglasses when you're boating or at the beach. While kids may not be as bothered by these intense rays as adults are, getting them in the habit of using protective eyewear can prevent damage later on.

boy buried in sand with sunglasses

Finally, many medications can make parents and little ones  extra sensitive to sunlight. Examples include antibiotics, antihistamines, sulfa drugs, some antidepressants, and birth control pills.

Excerpted from All About Vision.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold is the medical director of Liberty Vision in Hamden CT. The award winning surgeon has recently been named Best LASIK surgeon in a New Haven Advocate Readers' Poll for 2013, 2014 and 2015.