Should I be packing sunglasses in my child’s school bag?

Students at Wyrallah Public School in Northern NSW wear sunglasses to school, a regular part of their school uniform.

As another school year gets underway, Optometry Australia is urging parents and teachers to include sunglasses with the hats and sunscreen in every kid’s school sun safety kit.

While most Australians are aware of the risk that exposure to ultraviolet rays represent for the skin, it’s not so well known that UV radiation can significantly damage a child’s eyes and lead to serious eye health problems later in life.

Kids’ eyes are much more vulnerable to UV rays than adults.

To start with, prolonged UV exposure can cause photokeratitis, effectively sunburn to the eye. By the time the child feels the burning sensation, the damage is done.

Many conditions including macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, cataracts, pterygium (fleshy growths), and eye cancers are linked to cumulative UV exposure over a lifetime, so kids should definitely be putting on sunglasses as part of their daily sun protection routine.

The need to wear sunglasses in summer has increased with the dramatic rise in UV levels over recent decades, and it's important to note that it's not just around the middle of the day that it's important to have them on. Our eyebrows block some of the UV rays directly entering the eyes when the sun is above us so we actually get more direct exposure from UV rays when the sun is lower on the horizon, for example earlier in the morning or later in the day. Sunglasses should be worn all day when outside and every day, even in winter.

While schools have been great at implementing ‘No hat, no play’ policies, a hat simply does not offer enough protection for sensitive, young eyes. A hat will stop around 50 per cent of the sun’s harmful UV rays. Sunglasses bring the level of protection up to 98 per cent.

Sunglasses being included as part of schools’ sun-smart regimens is becoming more common in Australia. In fact, the number of schools to offer sunnies as part of the uniform has risen from three per cent to 10 per cent (170 schools) over the past six years.

Although the increase is encouraging, it’s clear there’s still much more to be done. Good eye protection is simple and affordable.

Parents don’t have to spend a fortune on sunglasses to make the future for their kids’ eye health bright.

As long as they’re the real deal and adhere to Australian standards (check the tag to make sure they are category 2 or higher so they actually block UV radiation), making a habit of wearing sunglasses can make a huge difference to vision and eye health, not just now, but over the course of their entire life.

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