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Protecting your child’s eyesight in the sun

Did you know?

  • Three quarters (76 percent) of parents don’t protect their children’s eyes in the sun
  • Up to 80 percent of a person’s exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) light happens before the age of 18
  • Of those who do buy sunglasses for their children, almost half (46 percent) put cost ahead of protection

Parents can risk their child’s eyesight by exposing them to bright sunlight without appropriate protection.

In a 2010 study by the Royal College of Optometrists, three quarters (76 percent) of parents questioned did not make sure their child wears sunglasses when out and about in the sun.

While almost half of parents ensure their child’s time in the sun is limited and three-quarters make sure they apply suncream to their child’s skin, buying sunglasses to provide protection for the eyes was reported to be less of a priority.

Almost one third of those questioned do not even buy sunglasses for their children. However, of those who do, only 25 percent choose sunglasses from a reputable brand or supplier and nearly half opt for price over protection.

Why are sunglasses important?

According to the World Health Organisation, up to 80 percent of exposure to UV light over a person’s lifetime occurs before the age of 18*. It’s therefore especially important that parents make sure that children wear sunglasses so that any long-term damage is minimised.

Protection for children’s eyes is essential in strong sunlight. Just as most of us wouldn’t dream of sending our children out into the sun without any protection, neither should we expose their eyes directly to strong sunlight. Sunlight can damage the retina and lens of the eye, increasing the risk of developing certain conditions such as cataracts and possibly age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in later life.

Simon Kelly of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, warns that sun can burn the eyes too: “Over-exposure to ultraviolet light, such as a day at the beach without proper eye protection, can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye, similar to sunburn on the skin.”

Reflected sunlight from snow and water, and artificial light from sunbeds, is particularly dangerous.


Always avoid looking directly at the sun. Staring directly at the sun can permanently scar the retina, the area at the back of the eye responsible for vision.

What you can do?

  • Buy good quality, dark sunglasses.
  • Check they are up to standard. Good sunglasses don’t need to be expensive. Look out for glasses carrying the ‘CE’ mark and British Standard BS EN 1836:1997, which ensures that the sunglasses offer a safe level of UV protection.
  • Light coloured eyes are especially vulnerable. Children with light coloured eyes are most at risk from sun damage so take even more care to ensure glasses are worn in the sun.
  • A wide brimmed or peak cap helps reduce the exposure to sun.
  • Reduce the time you are out in the sun. You can protect your child’s eyes and skin by spending time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (between 11am and 3pm in the UK).
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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: EYE42

Resource Type: Article

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