Do children benefit from sunglasses?

We all know of the benefits of cutting out the sun's glare but is making children wear them an unnecessary step too far? Nicole…

We all know of the benefits of cutting out the sun's glare but is making children wear them an unnecessary step too far? Nicole Matthews reports

Sunglasses are not just a stylish accessory but are very effective in shielding our eyes against the sun's glare. There are many conditions which can affect our eyes due to the suns rays, so should children be taking the same precautions as adults in the sun?

Barry Lawlor, President of the Association of Optometrists in Ireland, explains that there are conditions which the sun can have on our eyes, both on a short and long term.

He says that a short-term condition is keratitis which is an inflammation and irritation around the eye.


"The eye will be red and watery and will feel quite gritty. This is similar to sunburn, but in the eye. This condition will resolve itself over time in most cases but depending on the severity a GP should be consulted for eye drops or cream," says Lawlor.

He believes that while it is not necessary for children to wear sunglasses all the time, there are circumstances where parents should exercise caution.

"It is a good idea to minimise the amount of UV to your child's eyes in areas with higher exposure such as sun holidays or where they are active near water or snow and the sun is reflected into their eyes," he says.

Prof Michael O'Keefe, consultant ophthalmic surgeon who specialises in Paediatric Ophthalmology, National Children's Eye Centre, Temple Street Hospital, Dublin, however feels that there is no evidence that children should wear sunglasses.

"There is no indication at all for children to routinely wear sunglasses unless they have a predisposed condition and in that case glasses would be prescribed to them by a physician," says O'Keeffe.

Fionnuala Murphy of the National Council for the Blind, Dublin, points to the long-term risks considered to be related to overexposure to sunlight.

"We would always recommend that everyone protects themselves including children as UV rays can cause cataracts," says Murphy.

While conditions such as keratitis, macular degeneration and cataracts are frequently cited as being linked to over exposure to bright light, they are more commonly associated with old age.

Dr Aisling Foley Nolan, consultant ophthalmologist, at Bon Secours Hospital, Dublin, accepts that while there are certain risks associated to over exposure to sunlight, she says we do not come across them in Ireland.

"There seems to be an increased incidence of cataracts but that is not a problem here in Ireland and there has been no evidence in the journals that would suggest that children need to start wearing sunglasses," says Foley Nolan.

She believes that there are risks if children start wearing sunglasses too early.

"If children start wearing sunglasses early they could become more sensitive to the sun," saysFoley Nolan.

If, however, parents are looking for sunglasses for their children or even for themselves there are certain guidelines they can look for to ensure UV protection.

"In looking for glasses for your child they should be UV 400 which means that they will block up light up to a wavelength of 400 nanometres, so in other words they block out all UV light," says Lawlor.

Fionnuala Murphy also explains how certain styles can also be more beneficial.

"When looking at sunglasses look on the label for a CE mark which is a European standard so UV protection should be 100 per cent . Children should wear wraparound sunglasses so that light cannot get in around the side," says Murphy.

It is also possible to add a UV tint to everyday prescription glasses for children and adults.

"A UV block can be added to everyday glasses without tinting them for children. Children wearing tinted glasses all the time can be more susceptible to glare and will get darker glasses to combat this but adding a UV 400 to normal glasses is just as effective as sunglasses," says Lawlor.

O'Keefe however does not believe that there is a risk that warrants children wearing glasses with a UV tint.

"I would not recommend to anyone that children should wear sunglasses on a regular basis," says O'Keefe.