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Protect those Peepers: UV Eye Protection

I’ve always thought that sunglasses made for kids were a bit on the dorky side, so I never invested in them. But then, one day as I was out on a walk, without my sunglasses, it hit me, the sun is BRIGHT! If I was having a hard time being outdoors without my shades, how did the kiddos feel when they were out and about, NEVER wearing sunglasses? I decided that day, no matter how dorky those little sunglasses are, my children needed them. I don’t think I’m alone here–we, as parents are vigilant about protecting our children’s skin, but we usually don’t think about their eyes. Since September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Breezy Mama checked in with Michael A. Slusky, O.D. to find out exactly what we should be doing to make sure our kiddos eyes stay good forever.

We want to protect our eyes from UV radiation—can you explain exactly what that means?
A number of studies have shown that the effects of UV radiation are cumulative and may increase the chance of developing irreversible eye problems later in life, including cataracts and age-related mucular degeneration.

However, it’s easy to achieve a significant measure of protection for your eyes against UV radiation.   I recommend a three-pronged approach including a wide-brimmed hat, wrap-around UV-blocking sunglasses and for those who wear contact lenses, a UV-blocking contact lens.   The contact lenses are an extra form of protection because they can block rays that sneak in from the top and sides or are reflected up from the ground.  A good rule of thumb is to ask your eye doctor for contact lenses that have the highest level of UV-blocking available, like ACUVUE®.

How can we tell if we have UV damage to our eyes?
If your eyes feel sore after a day in the sun, you may have photokeratitis, which is essentially like sunburn of the cornea.  Another short-term condition is photoconjunctivitus, which, like pink eye, causes redness and inflammation.  If you experience discomfort for more than one day, you should see your eye doctor.

You should also make sure to have regular comprehensive eye exams where your eye doctor can check for signs of long-term damage, such as pterygium (growths on the surface of the eye), cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Are children and adults at the same risk for UV damage?
No, it is estimated that 80 percent of lifetime exposure to UV occurs by age 18 and that children’s annual dose of UV radiation is three times that of adults.  This is largely due to the fact that children have larger pupils, clearer lenses and spend more time outside than adults.

It also doesn’t help that many parents don’t have their children wear sunglasses when outdoors.  A recent study found that only 39% of Americans make sure their children wear sunglasses when outdoors, compared to 78% who make sure their children wear sunscreen.

What is the ideal sunglass for adults? (Tint, polarized, shape, etc)
While most sunglasses can help block UV rays from entering through the lenses, most frame styles do not prevent rays from reaching the sides, top, and bottom of the glasses. Sunglasses that have a wrap style are more helpful.

The darkness of the lens doesn’t really factor into how much UV a lens blocks, so find one that’s comfortably tinted for you and make sure it blocks at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.

How much does wearing a hat alone protect us?
A wide-brimmed hat alone doesn’t give enough protection, since UV rays can reflect up into your eyes off of surfaces like water, sand, grass and even pavement.

What should we be looking for in a child’s sunglass? It seems as if the majority of those on the market are more for play.
Sunglasses that have a wrap style are best, plus they tend to stay on children’s face a bit better than most. Of course, they should also offer UV protection.  I also like bendable frames, which are safer for young children.

Is there a certain children’s sunglass brand that you recommend?
There are many good brands offered today at many price points. It’s not so much about the brand, it’s really about finding the right shape and fit for your child, as well as making sure they blocks at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.

Should we get sunglasses for our infants as well?
Yes, it’s never too early to start protecting a child’s eyes; soft sunglasses work well. Because young children are very susceptible to sunburn, the more sun protection the better.

What should we do about eye protection if we’re in the water a lot (i.e. surfing).
Eye protection is equally important in the water, if not more because of the glare coming off the water. You can get goggles with UV protection if sunglasses won’t work.

I’ve heard that glare from the snow is worse than the sun you get from a day at the beach. Is this true?
This is true. Snow produces a glare which compounds the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  You should definitely make sure that any goggles you buy for snow sports block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays, and wear your sunglasses year round.

For those that wear contacts, is there a “dark” contact you can get to wear if you know you will be spending a day in the sun?
No, the actual color of the contact doesn’t directly relate to the level of UV protection; just make sure that you wear a lens with the highest level of UV protection because not all lenses offer protection and many offer only a small amount.  In my practice, for children I generally prescribe 1•DAY ACUVUE® MOIST®, which offers up to 82% UV-A and 97% UV-B protection.   For adults I like 1•DAY ACUVUE® TruEye® or ACUVUE® OASYS, which block 90% of UV-A and 99% of UV-B rays.  All of these lenses carry the AOA Seal of Acceptance for UV-Absorbing Contact Lenses.  For more information, click here.

About Michael A. Slusky, O.D.: Dr. Michael Slusky heads a thriving Chicago-based eye care practice where, in addition to treating patients, he regularly evaluates new vision correction products before they are released to doctors and patients worldwide.  Dr. Slusky is regarded as a key opinion leader in the optometric industry, is a regular contributor to optometric industry publications and has lectured internationally.  Dr. Slusky is a graduate of the Illinois College of Optometry, where he received awards of clinical distinction in primary and ophthalmic care, as well as pediatric and binocular vision. To visit Dr. Slusky’s website, Halsted Eye Boutique, click here.

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  1. […] honor of Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month: the best ways to protect your kids’ peepers — […]

  2. […] 3.Protect those Peepers: UV Eye Protection – Breezy Mama Sep 27, 2010 … Since September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Breezy … If you experience discomfort for more than one day, you should see your eye doctor. … Dr. Slusky is regarded as a key opinion leader in the optometric … […]

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