A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Eye Health: Children are more susceptible
to damage from UV rays; protection is a must

By Dr. Dawn Stratton
KyForward columnist

It seems as if I was just writing about the beginning of summer and now I’m talking about back-to-school eye exams. A lot of parents are bringing their children in for those exams, which is a good time to discuss the importance of protecting eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Up to half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 18. UV radiation from sunlight has been associated with multiple age-related eye problems, including cataracts and macular degeneration.

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The risk of damage to our eyes and skin from solar UV radiation is cumulative, meaning the danger continues to grow as we spend time in the sun throughout life. Children are more susceptible to retinal damage from UV rays because the lens inside a child’s eye is clearer than an adult lens, enabling more UV to penetrate deep into the eye.

These factors make it very important for all children, even infants, to wear UV-blocking sunglasses when they are outdoors. Prevent Blindness America says children’s sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of both types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. So, be wary of children’s sunglasses with labels that say, “Blocks UV rays” without specifying the actual percentage of UV radiation absorbed. Your eye care practitioner can use an optical instrument to determine the exact level of UV protection sunglasses provide.

Most eye doctors recommend children’s sunglasses also have these features:

Impact-resistant lenses. Polycarbonate lenses are up to 10 times more impact-resistant than standard plastic lenses for protection during sports and other play.

Large, close-fitting frame. For the best protection from UV and to keep dust and other debris from getting in your child’s eyes, a relatively large, yet close-fitting frame is the best design.

“Unbreakable” frame material. Look for children’s sunglasses that have flexible frames to avoid breakage and potential eye or facial injury from a frame that snaps upon impact.

Spring hinges. Hinges that extend beyond 90 degrees and have a spring action to keep the fit snug will decrease the risk of your child’s sunglasses falling off or getting damaged during sports and other play.

An elastic band that attaches to the end of each of the frame’s earpieces can help prevent loss or damage to children’s sunglasses. However, avoid the use of a band or cord that might pose a choking risk for an unattended infant or toddler.

Also, be aware that UV radiation penetrates clouds. Encourage your children to wear their sunglasses even on overcast days. Plus, it’s a good idea for kids to wear a wide-brimmed hat, and don’t forget the sunscreen.


Dr. Dawn Stratton, O.D., is the founder of Stratton Eyes. She is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago and earned her Doctor of Optometry in 1994. Based in Lexington, Dr. Stratton is a member of American Optometric Association, the Kentucky Optometric Association, the National Association of Professional Women and the Fellowship of Christian Optometrists. She also provides eye exams for patients at the Hope Center, Room at the Inn and The Nest. Visit Stratton-Eyes.com for more information or call 859-245-2020 or email office@strattoneyes.com. You can also find the office on Facebook and on Twitter @StrattonEyes.

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