By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
In the US, The Vision Council reports more than half of parents do not have their children wear sunglasses to protect them from ultra violet radiation. Can optometrists help to raise awareness on the importance of UV-protecting eyewear and also tap into this potentially growing market?
As a parent I know how cumbersome it can be to constantly apply and reapply sunblock to my 5-year-old triplets. However, there is a positive family history of malignant melanoma on my husband’s side of the family so I also know how essential it is to protect my children’s skin from the sun. As an optometrist, I know the impact of not protecting their eyes from UV radiation, but I have to admit, I am much more adamant about them wearing sunblock then I am about them grabbing their sunglasses and it seems that I am not alone. The Vision Council recently released the results of its 2013 UV Report including their survey and observational study on Americans’ use of UV-protecting eyewear.
They state that less than 50 percent of parents surveyed say that they have their children wear UV protecting sunglasses while outdoors leaving over half of American kids unprotected. One could argue that sunglass use, particularly in young children, may be difficult. After all, some children would have to be coached on keeping their tiny fingers away from the lenses to prevent smudging, and the glasses would need to be properly adjusted so they would be less likely to slip off of the child’s face during their active time outdoors. Also, some parents may be concerned that the child may lose or break the sunglasses and do not want to keep incurring the costs of replacing them. However, these minor hindrances can be easily remedied by properly educating a responsible child on how to wear and care for their sunglasses.
Still, if my children are going outside for an extended period of time, I have to admit, I am more likely to reach for a sunhat when dressing them than I am their pairs of sunglasses. However, according to The Vision Council, other parents are not even doing that. They report that 30 percent of parents do not take any precautions at all to protect their children’s eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. The use of hats, umbrellas or just sitting in the shade do not protect the eyes of children from reflected UV light, light bouncing off of low-level and low-angle surfaces such as water, sand and concrete. Even grass reflects a tiny percentage of UV light back up toward the eye.
As optometrists, we have to continue to work together to educate the public on the importance of protecting our children’s eyes from UV. UV-protecting sunglasses are the best way of shielding our little ones eyes from UV light. It’s not only a healthy habit to start early in life; it’s also a way of preventing cumulative damage during those sensitive first 18 years of life. Optometrists need to actively educate not only their patients, but the parents of their younger patients on the many benefits of UV-protecting eyewear including helping to prevent UV keratitis, pingecula/pterygium formation, accelerated cataract growth and macular degeneration and even certain cancers of the ocular surface and eyelids.
Do you recommend sunglass use to all parents of the children you examine? What percentage of your sunglass sales are for children’s sunglasses? What has worked in your office to help boost sales for children’s sunglasses?