Hey Mom! Make room in your already bulging diaper bag for one additional item, sunglasses. For your infant. The earlier children begin to wear “shades” the less likely they are to have cataracts and other eye problems when they become grandparents.
1. Any old shades won’t do. Infants’ eyes are especially susceptible to the sun. Their eyes absorb greater amounts of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation than do adults’. Infants’ lenses are more transparent because the lenses do not yet contain pigment that helps reduce radiation. And infants’ pupils are relatively large, allowing more light into the eyes. Infants often look directly into the bright sun – though reflexes will quickly make them blink and look away.
2. Children spend more time outdoors than adults. People get a large percentage of their lifetime sun exposure by the time they are eighteen years of age, the period during which eyes are particularly sensitive to UV radiation. While about 80% of parents realize that it’s important for children to wear sunglasses, more than half of these children seldom or never wear sunglasses.
3. Children less than six month of age should be kept out of the sun. Protect their eyes from the sun when carrying them and when they are in the back seat of a car. Note that the sun comes from different directions as you drive. (Also, sunscreens are not recommended at this age. Sunscreens have not been tested on infants. And infants have thin and permeable skin, possibly leading to excessive amounts of sunscreen chemicals being absorbed into the body.)
4. Older infants and children should be protected from the sun. Broad-brimmed hats decrease UV exposure up to 30%. Have sunshades on strollers; some sunshades specifically block UV radiation. Minimize outdoor activities between 10 AM and 2 PM when radiation is most intense. Children with fair complexions are especially vulnerable to UV radiation because their eyes and skin contain less protective pigment.
5. All shade is not created equal. Clouds are only partially protective. Being in the shade of a building but having a blue sky directly above offers little protection from UV radiation. Being under a beach umbrella protects from direct radiation but allows considerable radiation reflected from water and sand. Dirt, grass and concrete reflect comparatively little radiation.
6. Beware of “fun” or “novelty” sunglasses. These are mainly marketed for young children for entertainment but offer no UV protection. Moreover, some have large brightly colored frames that may contain lead. Such glasses were sold in 2013 and 2014 and labeled Disney, Marvel and Sears/Kmart. Buy infants’ sunglasses at reputable stores that sell eyeglasses.
7. Read labels. All sunglasses should block 99 to 100 % of UVA and UVB. For infants and young children, choose sunglasses made of shatterproof polycarbonate, not glass, to reduce the risk of injuries. Also, choose ones that have flexible frames. Such frames also reduce injuries and are less likely to be damaged when children bend or twist them or leave them where they can be stepped or sat on. Polarized lenses reduce glare. Children’s sunglasses come in various sizes. (One size fits all adults.) Labels generally state the age range for the glasses. Comfortable fit on the nose and around ears makes children less inclined to remove them.
8. Other considerations. Lenses should be large and wrap around towards the ears, and have an adjustable strap to go around the head. Straps help keep glasses in place and make it more difficult for children to remove them. Dark colored lenses are no more protective than light ones; protection results from chemicals applied to the lenses. Replace sunglasses when they become scratched. Good sunglasses need not be expensive. Cost reflects frames, not UV protection.
9. Good luck in having young children wear sunglasses. While most young children seem to enjoy wearing them – it makes everything look more colorful – some children will refuse. To encourage them, wear them yourself, and point out other children wearing them. For older toddlers, let them pick out a pair they like. Reward them with a toy but let them play with it only as long as they wear the glasses. Be persistent. Don’t let them go outside unless they wear sunglasses and bring them indoors when they take them off. Compliment them on how good they look. Take a picture and show it to them.
10. Days in snow country are as harmful for eyes as summer days at the beach. Snow is a far better reflector of UV radiation than water or sand, reflecting up to 85% of rays. Many winter activities take place in snow-covered hilly terrain, allowing evenmore reflected rays to hit children’s eyes, and from additional angles. Modern winter clothing permits children to spend more time outdoors. Altitude increases radiation; the higher the elevation, the less atmosphere to filter out harmful rays. And cold weather, light clouds, and a sun low on the horizon offer little protection.