Q [Family]: During the summer, I’m all about protecting my family’s skin from the sun, but what about my family’s eyes during these sunny days? How important is it really?
A: Protecting the sensitive skin around your eyes and the eye itself is very important. People more commonly wear sunscreen on their skin and face as part of their daily regimen, and they should also make wearing proper eye protection an equal priority. When it comes to the eyes, extended exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun—and even artificial lights—can cause damage to your cornea and lens, as well as the delicate soft tissues around the eyes. This damage can cause eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, pterygium, and other growths on the eye, including cancers. UV light damage doesn’t discriminate by age either, and we are seeing more and more cases from the effects of UV damage to the eyes and skin on younger patients.
The skin around the eye of babies, especially, is more delicate than an adult’s skin, making it even more vulnerable to ultraviolet ray (UVR) damage. Up to the age of 10, a child’s cornea is clear and even more susceptible to the effects of UVR damage. As children age, the cornea becomes more opaque, naturally protecting it from the harmful rays. That is why it is even more important for parents to properly protect their child’s eyes from the sun at an early age, and create a habit for wearing sun protection that will extend throughout their lifetime. Some other questions you might have could be:
Should I avoid sunlight altogether? As hard as it would be to avoid sunlight altogether, you shouldn’t. In fact, there are studies that show the need for limited natural sunlight exposure to maintain healthy body function, as with the absorption of vitamin D. However, what about our eyes? According to research, there are light-sensitive cells in the eye that affect the way our bodies regulate sleep-wake cycles. Insomnia and disruptive sleep becomes more of an issue as we age, and a limited amount of UV light can help regulate our sleep-wake cycles. There is also research that supports children who spend more time playing outdoors—approximately an hour a day—are less likely to develop nearsightedness. Whether it is a combination of outdoor sports activities and sunlight, promoting an active lifestyle for our children can help promote better vision!
How can we enjoy the sun safely? As Southern Californians, we get to enjoy over 280 sunny days out of the year and much of our lifestyle revolves around spending those days outdoors. Whether you are at the park, pool or the beach, we have plenty of options these days to enjoy it all safely. Don’t be fooled by the haze of clouds or fog either, the sun’s strong rays can permeate right through them and cause the same—if not more—damage. Choose the “quality” of your purchases wisely. A national survey conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology resulted that only 50 percent of consumers who wear sunglasses checked the product for a UV rating. It’s easy for adults to grab a pair of sunglasses, but babies and kids are sometimes harder to keep protected. Parents should have hats and sunglasses readily available to protect their children whenever they are outdoors—especially around water and snow—where the reflections of the UV rays are magnified.
Dermatologists will tell you that not all sunscreens are created equal, and neither are sunglasses! It is a common misconception that darker shaded lenses protect eyes better, but it all comes down to the quality of the lens.
Sun protection purchase tips
- Only purchase sunglasses that are have a labeled as “UV400” or “100 percent UV protection.” These sunglasses will block both UV-A and UV-B rays.
- Children’s sunglasses should be constructed of a safe, bendable plastic that is considered playground safe. Also, make sure the lens are unscratched, un-warped and fit snug to the face.
- Allow your children to pick out their sunglasses; if they are involved in the process they will be more enthusiastic to wear them!
- Wrap-around sunglasses are recommended to protect the eye from all sides.
- Polarized lenses are recommended especially for use around water and snow.
- A long, brimmed hat will protect the delicacy of the eyes and face even more.
In addition to prevention, family members of all ages—young and old—should have their eyes examined annually for signs of eye diseases and UVR damage that can potentially be treated, and even reversed.
Dr. Tayani is a board certified ophthalmologist and fellowship-trained orbital-facial plastic surgeon. The Tayani Institute located in Mission Viejo, San Clemente and Laguna Hills is an eye, skin and cosmetic specialty practice. www.tayani.com