Summer vacation for school-age children means outdoor play and long hours at the beach. The increased sports activity and exposure to ultraviolet rays also means an increased risk to children’s eyes.
New research shows that children’s eyes can be damaged from sun exposure, just like their skin. This damage may put them at increased risk of developing debilitating diseases such as cataracts or macular degeneration as adults.
Dr. Kenneth Miselis, Medical Director of Heritage Eye, Skin & Laser Center says, “The lens of a child allows 70% more UV rays to reach the delicate retina than in an adult”. Most parents are aware of the critical need to protect their children’s skin from UV exposure, yet few insist their children wear sunglasses.
“If it is bright enough outdoors for you to be wearing sunglasses, your child should also be wearing them,” he said.
Wearing protective goggles during sports activity is also highly recommended. The National Eye Institute reports there are more than 100,000 sports-related eye injuries every year with 42,000 requiring emergency care.
The doctors at Heritage Eye, Skin & Laser Center recommend five steps for summer eye safety for all children. Here is a summary:
1. Make sure your kids wear sunglasses-especially younger children.
Almost half the entire time we spend outdoors in our lives occurs before 12-years of age.
Sunglasses for children may be purchased inexpensively at many retail and online outlets but make sure the sunglasses you purchase are rated to block both UVA and UVB radiation. All sunglasses block UVB, but some do not block UVA rays, which are damaging to the retina. Look for glasses with a polycarbonate lens and know that children under six may need a pair with Velcro straps to keep them in place.
2. Wear protective eye gear for ball sports.
Every year, some 18,000 sports-related eye injuries are seen in US hospital emergency rooms in this country. While helmets are required for many organized sports like baseball, goggles or face guards usually are not. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that children wear polycarbonate goggles for baseball, basketball and racket sports, including tennis. Regular glasses are not recommended, since they usually are not secured to the head, nor made from polycarbonate.
3. If sand gets in your child’s eyes, don’t let him rub it.
If a child gets sand blown or thrown into his eyes, an adult should immediately take the child to a sink with running water. Do not allow him to rub his eyes as this can cause damage to the cornea (outer layer of the eye). Use a clean cup to pour water over the eyes to remove sand particles. Encourage blinking and do not discourage crying, since tears remove eye irritants. If flushing and blinking does not remove the sand particles, seek medical attention.
4. Find and use a non-irritating sunscreen.
Generally, adult sunscreens are fine for children. If your child gets a rash from his sunscreen, review the ingredient’s list and choose a different one. Look for one that is PABA free, since that chemical can cause irritation in some individuals. You might also look for one that gets its UVA protection from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, both inert sun blocking pigments, which tend to be thicker, more stable and less irritating than avobenzone, another common ingredient. Sunscreen is important; your child should not be discouraged from using it because of a fear of irritation.
5. Check the chlorine level in your pool.
If a swimming pool has too little chlorine, it can allow algae and other bacteria to grow, which can lead to eye infections. Also, be sure to check the levels of chloramines and the pH of the pool to avoid stinging and redness. One easy solution is to have children wear a pair of goggles that will keep pool water from entering the eye. After swimming in a pool, have your child shower. If redness and irritation persist after swimming, it could be a sign of a more serious infection and should be seen by a physician.