My first “real” sunglasses were gold Ray Ban aviators. I proudly wore them every day of the summer of 1988 as I sat poolside in a lifeguard stand, twirling a whistle and feeling super cool. Since those days, I almost always have a pair of sunglasses handy when outside, year-round. I don’t feel quite right being outdoors without them. My kids haven’t developed that habit yet, but that may soon change. I’ve been boosting awareness of our eye health everysince with John Appler, owner, and Jeanne Hayter, manager, of Clark Appler Optical in Towson, and Dr. Mary Louise Collins, director of pediatric opthamology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Here are some important reminders for all of us:
- Quality Matters
I have a stash of freebie novelty shades that the kids sometimes wear. You probably have a few around—cheap plastic frames with different colors on the sides, and lenses that scratch easily. I never really thought to look into how much protection they really offer. The key is UV protection.
“Almost all good quality lenses have UV protection. Most sunglasses are better than nothing, but lenses vary greatly in quality between giveaways and those from an optician,” says Hayter, who adds that she herself experienced corneal damage from sunburn as a child.
Dr. Collins reinforces the importance of lens quality in protecting eyes from harmful UV rays. “If cheap sunglasses offer tinting but not UV protection, they can actually do more harm than good, because the pupils will be more dilated and more at risk from exposure.”
I initially thought good lenses mean a major expense, but it turns out you can pick up a quality pair of nonprescription sunglasses for kids for as little as $40. That’s about the price of four tubes of sunscreen, to put it in perspective.
- Healthy Habits
Start them young and make attention to eye health part of the routine. “Parents already make sure to slather sunscreen on their children’s skin, but they should consider eye protection as part of that process too,” John Appler says.
There are ultra cute baby sunglasses with wraparound styling and a stretchy strap that holds them in place with a velcro closure. And there are stylish models for bigger kids that serve fashion as well as function. Still, it can be hard to get kids to keep sunglasses on. “Pick your battles,” Dr. Collins says, “if a child has sensory issues or won’t wear sunglasses, and they aren’t needed for vision correction, it’s not something to fret over. A hat can also provide shielding.”
If your child requires vision correction, consider lenses that automatically transition to darker tinting in bright light. “They are really useful for children,” Hayter says, “as they allow them to go from indoor lighting to outdoor playtime without taking off or changing glasses.”
- Vision benefits
“Some parents come in for glasses to help protect their kids’ eyes from blue light from frequent screen usage,” Hayter says. Digital eye strain is a real issue for children and adults who are often on computers, smart phones and other devices. Repetitive extended screen time has a cumulative negative effect on eye health.
“Better yet,” Dr. Collins recommends, “get the kids outside and off the screens as much as possible! There’s good science showing that being outdoors is great for eye health. When kids spend time outside it also helps provide protection from nearsightedness.” How’s that for motivation? Enjoying the outdoors is not only good for muscles and mood, but it strengthens the eyes, too!
- Avoid irritants
When you head to the pool or beach, Dr. Collins advises that you apply sunscreen in advance to give it time to absorb a bit before getting in the water, which can make the lotion run into the eyes, causing uncomfortable stinging and possibly chemical conjunctivitis. Don’t rub stinging eyes. Instead flush with clean water or wipe with a cool wet washcloth. Sunscreen, sand, smoke and chlorine can all create angry eyes.
Fend off irritation from highly chlorinated pools with well-fitting goggles. Choose tinted or mirrored lenses for outdoor swimming. My daughter wears glasses, so she uses optical corrective goggles (about $20 online or in a sporting goods store). The strength can be chosen to match as closely as possible to the “+” or “-“ value needed (similar to buying generic readers). For more of an investment, your optician can provide goggles with a specific prescription if necessary.
- Dangerous objects
Rec specs or sport glasses, protective masks or goggles are a great safety measure for athletes. “I can’t understand why any sport that requires a mouth guard doesn’t also require eye protection. Teeth can be replaced, but eyes can’t,” Dr. Collins says, “It has been mandated for lacrosse, but a soccer ball can do a lot of damage, too.” Take the initiative and be sure to outfit your young athlete with eye protection.
Finally, let’s mention something that we all know will be abundant soon in celebrating July Fourth — fireworks and sparklers. Even with eye protection, they pose more risk. “Please, just leave the fireworks displays to the professionals,” Dr. Collins says.
Some of the most breathtaking moments I have had as a mom have involved looking into my children’s eyes, or seeing the world anew with them as they experience firsts. I’ll do whatever it takes to help ensure that those beautiful eyes stay strong and healthy.