Ask Dr. Marla: Sunglasses for children

Question:

Should children wear sunglasses, and if so, how do you know what kind to buy? Are cheap ones OK?

Answer:

This is a terrific question that many parents wonder about. Dr. Elise Heon, Chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, was kind enough to bring us the latest research. Indeed this is a very active area of research and an appreciation for the concept of “light toxicity”. The concern exists that prolonged and long standing light exposure is potentially damaging to the eye and can accelerate the aging of the eye in different ways. The skin around the eye is very sensitive to light. The lens of the eye is clear in the young, and therefore transmits more light to the retina. We also know that intense prolonged UV exposure is damaging to the retina. This is why we say to never stare at the sun or an eclipse. It is thought that if you decrease these exposures you would minimize the risks of damage. In an older person who already has a retinal disease such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, it is thought that the risk for light damage is higher. The risk varies between individuals, your ethnic background, your baseline level of pigmentation, and so on, so personalized advice from a physician is always best.

We do feel it is a good idea to protect young eyes from prolonged UV light exposure. When it comes to children, there is speculation that prolonged outdoor play, particularly in water or snow, causes a lot of light reflection. Babies do not need sunglasses if they do not need a correction in their vision with eyeglasses. Children four and older, particularly those with fair complexions who spend all day in a sunny environment, should consider wearing sunglasses. When selecting sunglasses, you do not need to pay for the most expensive as long as there is a UV protection label. Without UV protection, the shade just allows your pupils to dilate and more light can go in, which is exactly what we do not want. There is an increasing choice in the selection of sunglasses for children.

Remember, however, to make sure the frames fit well so children do not injure themselves. If your child refuses to wear sunglasses, a hat also limits exposure.

Published June 2010

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