•The WHO recommends taking measures to protect the eyes and skin from a UV index higher than 3, a figure we exceed most days in Spain.
•Babies under six months should not be exposed to the sun, and exposure should be limited in children under 3 years of age.
With the arrival of the holidays and the summer period, the hours of sun exposure increase next to the beach, swimming pools and also in outdoor spaces, especially in the case of children and adolescents. From the Barraquer Ophthalmology Centre we advise children from 3 years of age to wear sunglasses during the summer to protect their eyes from ultraviolet radiation.
The WHO recommends taking measures to protect the eyes and skin from a UV index higher than 3, a figure we exceed most summer days in Spain.
To prevent lesions in kids, the main recommendation is to take appropriate measures of prevention: avoid direct sun exposure and the times when most radiation occurs (between 12pm and 4pm), and encourage sun protection using caps, visors and sunglasses with suitable filters.
Most parents have no doubts when it comes to applying sunscreen to a child to avoid the risk of burning their skin, while the level of awareness is not the same when it comes to sight. Just like the skin, the eyes have their own memory and the damage caused by excess sun exposure is accumulative, becoming a risk factor for the development of different pathologies.
The eye has a natural system to protect it from sun radiation. The cornea, pupil and crystalline lens act as natural filters, with help from the eyelids and eyebrows. However, this protection is not completely effective for children, as their eyes are not fully developed and are therefore more vulnerable to the negative effects of the sun.
Another cause that explains the greater sensitivity of the child population to solar rays is that their pupil is larger than that of adults, so a greater amount of light enters, while the pigmentation of the tissues is less. This situation causes that the protective screen against the sun is inferior.
For all these reasons, Dr. Idoia Rodríguez Maiztegui recommends starting to take care of eyesight from the first years of life. Babies under six months should not be exposed to the sun, and exposure should be limited in children under 3 years of age. From this age it is when it would be advisable to wear sunglasses.
Tips for choosing glasses
Children's sunglasses, just like adults’, must be approved otherwise they could seriously damage the eye health, so when acquiring them it is recommended to go to specialized optical centers and have professional advice.
Thus, sun glasses must bear the CE mark, protective filters -in the case of children, the category 3- filter is recommended and that they do not distort colors. Regarding the type of material, in children it is preferable to opt for organic lenses as the first choice, as they are more resistant to breakage and, in case of impact, they are safer.
When choosing glasses for children it is also important to make sure that they cover the entire eye well and that the lens does not hinder vision, as we must not forget that, at these ages, the visual system of the smallest is, still, in full development.
Risks of ocular pathologies
Overexposure to solar radiation in the eyes can produce short-term consequences, such as conjunctivitis or keratitis (sunburn), which manifest in the form of tearing, red eye, itching or pain, but also causes more serious long-term eye pathologies , such as cataracts, alterations in the conjunctiva, cornea and sclera or degenerative lesions in the retina (macular degeneration).
When going to the beach or the pool, it is advisable to always have sterile serum or artificial tears without preservative on hand to wash the eyes well in case of irritation or entry of substances or foreign bodies.