Effects of sun damage on eyes make scary reading

THE EYES HAVE IT: We care for our skin, but eyes need protection from UV rays too.

THE EYES HAVE IT: We care for our skin, but eyes need protection from UV rays too.

Few parents would let their kids out in the sun without sunblock and a hat, but sunnies are usually an optional extra.

One expert tells Stuff, however, that eyes need to be cared for just as much as skin, with most sun-related eye damage occurring in childhood.

OPSM optometrist Peter Murphy says UV damage to eyes is cumulative and irreversible over the life span. It's a lot like cumulative damage to the skin, but while the skincare message has sunk in, the eyecare message is a work in progress.

We put some questions to Murphy – here are his eye-opening answers:

1. Can you elaborate more on UV damage to the eyes?

The effect of UV damage is cumulative over time, and it is not just during the middle of the day in summer. UV exposure of the eye can sometimes be higher in the mornings and afternoons because of the angle of the sun in relation to the eyes.

It's true that UV radiation levels are three times higher during summer than in winter, but you may also experience higher levels of UV during winter on the ski fields or with reflections off the water when fishing.

2. Damage builds over a lifetime?

Short bursts of unprotected UV exposure can cause irritation and sensitivity to light. In the long term, all UV exposure to the eye adds up as potential damage to your eyes.

The cumulative effects of UV exposure to your eyes are: cataracts, macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), pterygium (a fleshy growth on the eye), solar keratopathy, and skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes.

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3. Are children's eyes particularly susceptible to damage?

Children's eyes are at greater risk for permanent damage from sunlight until they are at least 10 years old, because their eyes are highly sensitive and still developing. Some studies claim that 90 per cent of total lifetime damage from the sun's harmful rays occurs by age 18.

4. Are parents taking enough precaution?

Most parents encourage their children to use sunscreen when outdoors in the sunlight to protect the skin, but only a minority protects the vulnerable eyes of their infants, toddlers and children with sunglasses.

Parents should ensure that they protect the eyes of babies and children from ultraviolet light through the use of hats and children's sunglasses that meet the Australian or New Zealand Standards.

5. Schools and play centres make hats compulsory during summer – can a good wide-brimmed hat take the edge off any sun damage to eyes?

Wearing a broad-brimmed hat can reduce the amount of UV exposure to the eyes by about 50 per cent. When playing outside, children should avoid UV damage by wearing a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Children should maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes outdoor playtime and games. The latest research shows that children should pursue regular outdoor activity because this helps reduce the likelihood of them developing myopia (short-sightedness).

New Zealand experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world, it's important parents teach their children how to enjoy fun in the sun safely and protect their eyes as early as possible.

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 - Stuff


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