Last week there was a spate of publicity around the country on the topic of whether Australian school kids should have to wear sunglasses as part of their uniform.
While many schools around Australia have adopted a ‘no hat, no play’ policy, with wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved clothing and sunscreen being enforced in playgrounds, protecting children’s eyes has often been overlooked.
Victoria’s sun protection program, SunSmart, recommends that any time Ultra Violet (UV) levels reach three and above on the UV index, eye protection should be worn. In Victoria, these levels are generally reached from September through to the end of April each year, while New South Wales and Queensland generally reach these levels year-round.
Although a broad-brimmed hat reduces UV exposure to the eye by 50 per cent, the addition of sunglasses can reduce UV radiation to the eye by up to 98 per cent.
Optometry Australia’s Sophie Koh said it was important for parents to consider incorporating UV protective eyewear into their child’s outdoor activities, over the summer holidays and at school.
“UV protective eyewear is essential for children playing outdoors and we strongly encourage all parents to equip their children with sunglasses that meet Australian Standards,” she said.
“If you’re unsure of what sunglasses to choose, visit your local optometrist who’ll be able to provide sound advice on selecting the right pair of sunnies for your child.
“It is essential for parents and teachers to understand that UV damage from the sun begins in childhood. And like skin cancer, you can’t physically see the impact of UV until later in life. How much UV exposure you’ve had as a child will affect your risk of eye diseases in adulthood.
“Too much UV radiation to the eyes can lead to problems ranging from short-term irritation and inflammation, to long-term permanent damage such as cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer around the eyes and eye lids.
“Even on cloudy days or during winter, your eyes can be significantly affected by UV from indirect light reflected off the ground, sand, snow and water. Parents and teachers alike need to remember SunSmart’s protection message – slip on protective clothes, slop on SPF, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on a pair of sunglasses.
“If your child or teenager is experiencing red, irritated sore eyes, it may be that there are already early signs of permanent UV damage of a very sensitive part of the eye, called the conjunctiva.”
Parents should consider the following when selecting protective eyewear for children
- Choose close-fitting, wrap-around style sunglasses that cover as much of the eye as possible
- Check the swing tag to make sure the sunglasses meet the Australian Standard for eye protection in category two or higher – these lenses absorb more than 95% of UV radiation to the eyes
- Avoid toy sunglasses – they do not meet the Australian Standard and should not be used for sun protection
The best sun protection for children is a combination of shade, protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses that meet Australian Standards.