Is It Safe For Kids To Wear Sunglasses?

Do sunglasses provide the necessary protection to safeguard your child’s precious eyes from the hazardous UV rays of the sun? Read on to find out if he really must wear them.

By Amrita Gracias

Is It Safe For Kids To Wear Sunglasses?
A little baby wearing sunglasses on the beach

We all take severalprecautions to protect our children from the harsh rays of the sun, ensuring that their skin is well-shielded to avoid common troubles like skin infections or deep tans. But do we realise that we must take equal measures to protect their eyes, which are extremely sensitive to intense sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) rays?

Yes, some amount of sun exposure is always recommended, but too much sun and overexposure to UV rays can be harmful, especially for children. In fact, this is known to cause permanent damage to the eyes in the long run – particularly the lens, cornea and retina. 

Effect of the sun's rays on children's eyes

Children, particularly under the age of 10, are more susceptible to damage from the rays of the sun. While intense sunlight can cause immediate problems like red and sore eyes, long-term exposure to UV radiation is known to cause more serious problems such as cataract, damage to the retina and cornea, and even cancer in some cases.

When the sun radiates light to the earth, some of the light contains ultraviolet UV rays. These rays can be categorised into three types. The UVC rays (the most harmful UV radiation) are absorbed by the ozone layer. However, the UVA and UVB rays penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, and our eyes are exposed to harmful radiation.

Damage from UV radiation can affect different parts of the eye. Both the cornea (front of the eye) and the lens (responsible for focus) protect the retina (in the back of the eye) from the UV rays.

The cornea protects the eye from UVB radiation. Overexposure to UVB radiation damages the protective mechanism of the cornea. The lens of the eye also protects from both UVA and UVB radiation. But, since the cornea only absorbs the UVB rays, the lens is exposed to that much more UVA radiation.

Infants and children lack pigment in the ocular lens of the eye, and therefore it is not strong enough to handle bright sunlight and filter the ultraviolet (UV) rays. This, causes more UV rays to reach the retina of a child than in an adult, causing damage to it in the long run. Also, the pupil, which is at its largest in children, allows more light, and harmful radiation as well, to enter the eye and reach the retina.

Common eye problems caused by the sun

Constant exposure to UV rays can speed ageing and deterioration of the eye, along with gradual degeneration of the retina and damage to the cornea. Some of the most common and serious conditions caused by prolonged exposure to UV rays include:

Cataract: This involves clouding of the lens of the eye, which can hamper normal vision. Cataracts are known to develop gradually and can affect one or both eyes. The symptoms are usually seen in middle-aged or older people, but this condition occurs in children as well. They include blurry or double vision, inability to see colours clearly, increased sensitivity to bright lights and difficulty in seeing at night.

Pterygium: Commonly referred to as ‘surfer’s eye’; this is a soft, pinkish, fleshy overgrowth of the conjunctiva, which is the clear layer on the surface of the eyeball. The growth usually starts in the corner of the eye near the nose and can move into the cornea causing vision problems. They are however benign and occur mostly due to continuous exposure to UV rays.

Macular Degeneration: This leads to a progressive loss in the centre of the field of vision. The macula – a small area in the centre of the retina – gets damaged and deteriorates due to overexposure to UV radiation. This results in the central vision being affected, but the peripheral vision remains normal.

So, how can we help our children keep their eyes protected from these hazardous rays of the sun? Well, sunglasses are a good option. Wearing sunglasses at an early age can, in fact, help protect the eye from these persistent dangers.

Do sunglasses help in protecting your children’s eyes?

Sunglasses are designed to protect the eyes from excess sunlight and its rays, either by absorbing or reflecting certain frequencies of light that enter the eyes. 

The glasses consist of a pair of light-filtering lenses. Most of these lenses are made of colourised plastic like polycarbonate. Soluble organic dyes and metallic oxide pigments are added to the material of the lenses, which help absorb and reflect the light frequencies. Polarised lenses use a special filter that blocks the intense light and protects the vision.

Some high-quality brands, however, are known to use glass lenses. The glass used for these lenses is usually borosilicate, which is scratch and impact resistant owing to tempering and various chemical treatments.

The tint (colour of lens) determines the parts of the light spectrum that are absorbed by the lenses. Brown, grey and green tints are the most preferred choices.

Is It Safe For Kids To Wear Sunglasses?
A little girl enjoying some sunshine with her fancy sunglasses

When and how often should your child wear sunglasses?

There is no minimum age stipulated for children to wear sunglasses, although it is quite impossible to expect infants and toddlers to keep them on. Kids by the age of three are more likely to keep the glasses on, and perhaps even excited to wear them as a fashion accessory!

The UV exposure is high in areas of high altitude, bright sunny beaches and in bodies of water that cause reflection of the light. The intensity of the sun's rays also depends on the time of the year, and it is usually strongest during the summer months.

Sunglasses should be worn whenever the child is outdoors for a significant period of time, especially during the time of day when the sun is most intense. They can also be worn even when it is cloudy or overcast, as the ground, sand, roads, pavements, water or even snow can continue to reflect UV rays, even though it isn’t bright and sunny.

Tips to choose the right pair of sunglasses for your child

  • Buy sunglasses from a reliable licenced optician shop that can guarantee the quality of the lenses used. 
  • Avoid cheap glasses that are sold in general shops or roadside stalls.
  • Check for brands that specialise in sunglasses for children.
    • The glasses must provide 99 – 100% protection from UV rays.
  • Polycarbonate lenses are the best option for children as they are strong, durable and shatter-proof.
  • Make sure the lenses are of good quality and that they do not distort any shapes, lines or images. 
  • Avoid low-quality sunglasses that are usually made up of ordinary plastic lenses with a thin coating.
  • Choose high-quality anti-reflective coatings, as these are important for clear vision through the sunglasses.
  • Ensure sunglasses are close fitting, comfortable and cover a majority of the eye area.
  • Ensure to purchase retainers or cords that can be attached to the arms of the frame. These are good accessories to help keep the glasses from falling or getting misplaced.
  • Let your child choose a preferred tint. The colour of tint doesn’t really matter; it depends purely on personal choice. 

Talk to your child and help him understand why he might need to wear sunglasses at certain times; persistent efforts are sure to have a positive effect!

Validated by Dr V C Parthasarathy, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai.

Also read: 10 Simple Eye Exercises for Your Child

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