Sunshine and our eyes

I hope that as you read this, the sun is shining as beautifully as it is at the time of writing!

Spending time outdoors is well known to be vital for our mental health, but what about our eye health?

Our eyes are ten times more sensitive to UV light than our skin, and children’s eyes are at the greatest risk of UV damage. Children have bigger pupils and clearer lenses in their eyes than adults. This means up to 70 per cent more UV light reaches a child’s retina than in an adult’s eye.

Latest figures from World Health Organisation estimate that this lack of natural eye protection combined with the disproportionate amount of time children spend playing outdoors could mean that as much as 80 per cent of a lifetimes’ UV is absorbed into the eye by the time a child reaches the age of 18.

Cumulative exposure to UV is one of the main risk factors of age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, and cataracts, a clouding of the lens in your eye, which affects one in three people aged over 65 years.

Scientific studies have shown that children who spend time outdoors are less likely to be short-sighted. So don’t stop your child exercising outdoors – just make sure their eyes are properly protected.

When you are spending time outdoors, make sure that everyone has good quality, dark sunglasses with UV protection. Look for the British Standard (BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013) or the CE mark, which is the manufacturer’s assurance that the sunglasses have been made to the appropriate safety standards. Wearing cheap, poor quality sunglasses can be more harmful to the eyes as the tint causes the pupil to dilate, allowing more damaging UV light into the eyes.

There are a variety of tints available for sunglasses, so you can choose one to suit you. If you are out in the sun for long periods, you may want to consider wraparound sunglasses for greater protection. And don’t forget – a wide-brimmed hat offers great protection, too!

If you already wear glasses, you can attach ‘clip-ons’ or ‘flip ups’ to them. These are tinted lenses that attach to the frame of your glasses and can removed or ‘flipped’ when not needed. You can also have sunglasses made to your prescription or have glasses with photochromic lenses, which change colour according to light conditions.