May is Healthy Vision Month. A lifetime of healthy vision starts in childhood, by protecting your eyes from injury and damage and developing good eye health habits.

Did you know that by the time your child turns 18, they have received 80% of their lifetime exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation? You likely recognize the importance of protecting your children’s skin from UV light, but most people aren’t aware that kids’ eyes need protection from UV as well.

Overexposure to UV rays can cause severe damage to children’s eyes, and only about 5% of parents report that their child always wears sunglasses when outside. Kids spend hours outside — riding bikes, school recess, playing, participating in sports — enjoying “fun in the sun.” The result is that their annual exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays is three times more than for adults!

Why are UV rays a risk to kid’s eyes?

The lens of the eye acts as a natural defense barrier against harmful UV rays, but the lenses in children’s eyes are not yet fully mature. Therefore, they are at greater risk for UV overexposure because their “filter” is not fully functional. For children, less natural filtering of UV light, as well as having larger pupils, means that harmful UV rays penetrate more deeply into their eyes. Additionally, the skin and eyelids of children are more easily harmed by UV light. The resulting damage of unprotected UV exposure to the delicate tissues in and around the eye can accumulate over a lifetime and cause eye disease in adulthood.

What is UV light?

UV light is the invisible electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. UVA, UVB and UVC are the three types of UV light. The difference in these types of UV rays is how they are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and to what degree they are absorbed.

  • UVA rays are (unfortunately) not absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, and therefore pose the greatest danger to eye health.
  • UVB rays are only partially absorbed, and overexposure can cause sunburn to the skin and eyes.
  • UVC rays, which are completely absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, cause no risk of injury to the skin or eyes.

What happens to the eyes when exposed to excessive UV light?

There are both short-term and long-term outcomes to a day of excessive UV light exposure:

1.Short-term UV exposure can cause sunburn to the eye, called photokeratitis. Ouch! While this type of short-term sunburn to the eye doesn’t necessarily cause long-term ocular damage, it can cause painful symptoms like excessive tearing, light sensitivity, and gritty eyes.

What do we mean by short-term exposure? One example would be a day at the beach when you or your children forget to wear their sunglasses. The beach presents a unique challenge for UV and the eyes, because UV rays come at you both from above and below (since rays are reflected up from the sand and water). Reflected UV light is responsible for 50% of your UV radiation exposure. That’s why a wide-brimmed hat isn’t enough UV protection for your kids’ eyes at the beach.

Snow skiers: It’s out-of-season right now, but next winter, don’t forget to protect your eyes and those of your child with sunglasses or sun goggles on those beautiful snow-covered slopes: Up to 94% of UVB rays are reflected off of snow and ice as compared to 8% that reflects off of water!

2.Long-term UV Exposure. Cumulative UVA and UVB exposure over the years can cause partial or even total loss of vision. Children (and adults) can develop growths called pterygium, a non-cancerous lesion that forms in the eye tissue from prolonged, excessive UV exposure.

Macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye diseases are often a result of the UVA and UVB rays absorbed by the eye. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the eye, causing retinal damage, while UVB rays damage the cornea and lens.

Wear Sunglasses Even on Overcast Days

Another critical point: Both adults and children need to wear sunglasses on overcast days. Why? Because the sun’s damaging UV rays penetrate our atmosphere and reach the Earth even when there is cloud cover.

For example, have you ever spent an entire day on the beach with an overcast sky only to find yourself quite sunburned by the end of the day? Yep, that’s what we’re talking about. The UV index is just as high on overcast days when high clouds are present as when the sky is clear. So, protect your children’s eyes!

Remind your kids to wear their sunglasses every day. And one great way to get kids to wear their sunnies is by wearing yours. Because – although they won’t likely admit it once the teen years commence – your kids are watching you and soaking up cues from everything you do, subconsciously forming their adult behaviors and habits. So wear your sunglasses every day, whether it’s sunny or cloudy!

If you or your child needs new sunglasses, your timing is perfect because our optical department is getting new styles in every week. Our team is wonderfully skilled in helping you choose a pair that will flatter your face shape and fit your lifestyle. And we can help your kids choose great styles that work with their active lifestyles.

We look forward to helping you look great while protecting your eyes and your kids’ eyes from the sun’s UV rays all year long!