The eye lens, unlike the rest of our body, once damaged, cannot repair themselves. Children and young adults are more susceptible to sun damage the eyes. Being children, it is important that they have outdoor time play, however it is crucial that they have proper sun protection (sunscreen and a hat at the least). We would highly recommend that children start good habit of wearing wrap-around sunglasses with good UV protection when they play for prolonged period outside. If your child requires vision correction, they can also have prescription sunglasses. The Cancer Council NSW reported that sun exposure in the first 20 years increase your chance of developing eye cancer.
Australians are well educated that sun exposures can be dangerous to the skin (without proper sunscreen), however we forget the impact of the sun to our eyes.
Sunglasses are not just a fashion statement, they should also be seen as a sun glare and damaging UV in the same way that a sunscreen to our skin. We need to understand what to look for in sunglasses to achieve the best sun protection, vision and comfort in the look you like. All proper sunglasses or optical retailers are required to provide clear labelling according to Australian Standard to help you selecting safe and appropriate sunglasses;
Category 0 – Fashion Spectacles (not proper sunglasses); some UV protection with very low sun glare reduction
Category 1 – Fashion Spectacles (not proper sunglasses); limited sun glare reduction with some UV protection and not for night driving
Category 2 – Sunglasses; with medium sun glare protection and good UV protection
Category 3 – Sunglasses; high sun glare protection with good UV protection (100%)
Category 4 – Sunglasses (special purpose); very high sun glare protection with good UV protection (100%)
The safest bet is to look for sunglasses with 100% UV protection which means that the lenses will protect our children’s eyes from both UVA and UVB radiation. Also watch out for sunglasses that are labelled as “toys” as they are fashion glasses and offer no sun protection at all to our children. Personally, as a mother, I would highly suggest to look for category 3 and 4 in sunglasses. Start good habit of wearing a hat when your children play outside from early age, and when they can manage sunglasses encourage them to do so when UV level reaches 3. If you are concerned about your current children’s or your sunglasses, most optometrists can help you assess them. Good news is if you already have your favourite sunglasses with good UV protection, scratches on lenses are considered safe from UV perspective (it could however obscure your vision depending how deep and where the scratches are located).
Sonya Wijaya (B. Optom. PG. Spec. Cert. Cont. Lenses/ Ther. Endorsed) is an optometrist who practices in Optical In Sight (Doncaster East VIC) www.opticalinsight.com.au