You will most often find me walking around with sunglasses. I’m either wearing them if I’m outside or they tend to wind up on top of my head “Mommy Style” as the wee ones call it, when I come indoors. The wee ones? They don’t wear them as much, but after talking to the Vision Council, they will be.
I wear my sunglasses in all weather. Even when it’s cloudy, I typically have my sunglasses on simply because my eyes tend to not like the light. I’ve always blamed it on light blue eyes, but apparently I’ve been doing myself a favor. I never thought about the UV rays that we so often block with sunscreen that otherwise filter directly into our eyes, leading to not just short term issues (remember Anderson Cooper being blinded by his eye sunburn?) but also long term problems like macular degeneration, cancer of the eyelid, cataracts, and more.
So I’m doing well for me, yay, right? I even wear them in the pool because the sunlight reflecting off the water is painful for me. But the wee ones? Oops.
I used to be really good about sunglasses for them. When they were toddlers and preschoolers, I used to put sunglasses and hats on them every time we went outside. They were too young to tell me how they were feeling, so of course I’m going to do the right thing. And somehow, that habit trickled away as they got older. Sure, they still have sunglasses, but they don’t wear them often anymore. I sort of felt like they would put them on if they needed them. At least I’m not alone, as more than 40 percent of parents admit that they don’t make sure their kids wear sunglasses either.
Damage to your eyes from UV rays is cumulative, just like to your skin. And Americans get most of their UV exposure before the age of 18, which highlights the importance of getting into the habit of wearing sunglasses while you’re young. Besides that, a child’s internal ocular lens is still immature and unable to filter out UV radiation.
Most people tend to think of wearing sunglasses just in the summer. I think that’s where we fell out of the habit with the wee ones. I was good about putting them on in the summer, but then living in Chicago we didn’t spend as much time outside in the winter and I lost that habit for them. For me, I always had them on – so shame on me for not keeping up with the wee ones. The wee ones have even named a hairstyle after me: Mommy Style Sunglasses.
Sunglasses should be a year round habit, however. The UV rays reflect, and they do it well. They reflect up to 100% off water and 85% off snow. Even dry sand and concrete reflect 25% of the UV rays. And interestingly, the eye receives nearly double the amount of UV rays from 8-10am and 2-4pm than they do during midday. I’ve seen the photos of eye damage, and I don’t want the wee ones – or me – to end up with any of those issues, so it’s time to take action.
The good news is that it’s easy. As long as you buy your sunglasses from a reputable store (not secondhand or from a street vendor), if the label says that the glasses protect against UV rays, you’ve got what you need. You want to be sure you’re guarding against both UVA and UVB rays, just like you do with your sunscreen. Those sunglasses can be $5 sunglasses or $300 sunglasses, and they’ll provide the same protection.
The same goes from the color of the tint. I had always assumed that the darker the glasses, the more the protection, but that isn’t the case. The tint isn’t what provides the protection against UV rays, so it’s your personal preference how dark you want your sunglasses and what color. Brown lenses help to reduce glare and increase color contrast so are great for sports and other detail oriented times. Grey lenses also help to reduce glare but maintain more natural colors while yellow and rose lenses enhance contrast and definition and are best for lower light conditions.
Unfortunately, kids being kids, I don’t trust them to take sunglasses with them when I’m not supervising, which means they can’t really use them while outside for recess at school and other times when I’m not around. Mister Man wears glasses, and I was also concerned about him switching out his glasses for sunglasses and losing (again) his regular glasses. Fortunately there are transition lenses, which I think are the solution I need to get for him. The downfall is that most regular glasses don’t have as much coverage as sunglasses do, but it’s better to have some protection than none.
And the coolest thing I learned about UV protection comes in the pool. I mentioned that I always wear my sunglasses when I’m in the pool because the light bothers my eyes, and water reflects up to 100 percent of the UV rays. There are now companies that make UV goggles. How cool is that? In fact, when I went to go check the goggles that I’d purchased (against my better judgement) for the wee ones for the upcoming pool season, I was pleased to see that they had UV protection.
I usually prefer that the wee ones not wear goggles because I want them to be comfortable with the water on their face and they have some sensory issues, but now you can bet that I’ll be pushing them to wear goggles all the time when they’re at the pool. Worst case scenario, if your child doesn’t like goggles, at least make sure you put on sunglasses for them during the 15 minute safety breaks most pools take each hour to give your child’s eyes a break, too.
The wee ones aren’t thrilled that I’m pushing sunglasses again because they aren’t used to wearing them, and it isn’t super comfortable for them – yet. But just like with any other change, they’ll get used to it, and down the road, I know they’ll appreciate it!