Made in the shade

Sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement. Especially in the summer, they are protection for your child’s precious peepers. The sun’s rays don’t just damage the skin, they can harm the eyes, as well. As you apply sunscreen to protect your children’s skin, don’t forget to protect their eyes. Studies show that exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of developing cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and growths on the eye, including cancer.

Kids are particularly vulnerable, and the sooner they begin to protect their eyes, the better. Many experts believe our eyes get 80 percent of their total lifetime exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays by age 18. Especially during the summer, when the level of radiation is at least three times higher than during the winter, sunglasses are an important part of everyone’s wardrobe.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers these tips to protect the whole family’s eyes from the sun:

• Don’t focus on color or darkness of sunglass lenses. Select sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays. Don’t be deceived by color or cost. The ability to block light is not dependent on the price tag or how dark the lenses are.

• Check for the level of protection. Make sure your sunglasses block 99 to 100 percent of all dangerous rays.

• Choose wrap-around styles. Ideally, your sunglasses should wrap all the way around to your temples, so the sun’s rays can’t enter from the side. Wrap-around sunglasses offer five-percent more protection than regular shades and can reduce sun-induced cataracts if used regularly.

• Tie one on. Protect your kids’ peepers — and your investment — by fastening shades to a strap so they stay on your child and don’t get lost.

• Wear a hat. In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your eyes.

• Don’t be fooled by clouds. The sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. Just because you don’t see the sun shining brightly, it doesn’t mean it can’t damage your family’s eyes.

• Protect your eyes during peak sun times. Sunglasses should be worn whenever you’re outside, but it’s especially important to wear sunglasses in the early afternoon, when light is more intense.

• Consider how much you want to invest. Many inexpensive children’s sunglasses provide excellent protection. This is especially true if they include polycarbonate lenses, because polycarbonate lens material blocks 100 percent of rays without the need for added lens filters or coatings. However, if you are willing to invest more, desirable features include impact resistant lenses, unbreakable frame material, and spring hinges.

• Be patient. Start as young as you can, and don’t get frustrated if children want to push their sunglasses off. Just be consistent. Eventually, wearing sunglasses will become a habit — one that will serve your child well throughout his life. Luckily, getting children to wear sunglasses is not that tough, especially if you allow them to select their shades. To them, sunglasses are a fashion statement, but you know they are so much more.

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