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Guide to buying the best sunglasses for kids

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Do children really need sunglasses?

According to most optometrists and researchers, the answer is an emphatic, "Yes."

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and blue light (also called high-energy visible light) from sunlight appear to increase the risk of some age-related eye problems, including cataracts and macular degeneration.

Researchers say the more exposure you've had to the sun's UV rays and blue light during your lifetime, the more at risk you may be for these conditions.

As children tend to spend more time outdoors than most adults, some researchers say nearly half of a person's lifetime UV exposure can take place by age 18.

Also, children are more susceptible to damage to the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye from UV rays because the lens inside a child's eye is less capable of blocking UV than an adult lens, enabling more of this radiation to penetrate deep into the eye.

And nearly all high-energy blue light reaches the retinas of children and adults alike, in laboratory studies these rays have been shown to damage photosensitive cells of the retina.

These factors make it very important for all children — even infants — to wear UV-blocking sunglasses anytime they are outdoors in daylight hours. This is true even on cloudy and overcast days, because most UV rays (which are invisible) can penetrate cloud cover.

By investing in quality children's sunglasses, you are helping your child enjoy a lifetime of good vision.

Children's sunglasses and UV protection

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You don't have to spend a lot for high-quality sunglasses that protect your children's eyes from harmful UV rays. Shown here are Explorer and Sky, both by Real Kids Shades.

UVA is lower-energy ultraviolet radiation that can penetrate skin and eyes more deeply. UVA rays tan your skin, but they also cause your skin to wrinkle and show other signs of "photo-aging." As UVA rays can penetrate the eye, they have been implicated in the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.

UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of solar UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface.

UVB is higher energy ultraviolet radiation that causes your skin to burn. The cornea blocks most UVB rays from entering the eye, protecting internal eye tissues from these high-energy rays. Overexposure to UVB rays can cause a serious and painful sunburn of the cornea called photokeratitis ("snow blindness").

Also, both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer of the face, including the delicate skin of the eyelids and the area around the eyes. UV exposure also has been associated with growths on the surface of the eye called pingueculae and pterygia.

Be wary of children's sunglasses with labels that say only that the lenses, "block UV rays" and don't specify the actual percentage of UV radiation the lenses absorb. Look for the Australian and New Zealand standards labels which show the amount of UV block.

Recommended features for children's sunglasses

In addition to having lenses that block virtually 100 percent of the sun's UVA and UVB rays most optometrists recommend children's sunglasses also have these desirable features:

Impact-resistant lenses

The best lenses for children's sunglasses are made of polycarbonate. Polycarbonate lenses are up to 10 times more impact-resistant than standard plastic lenses for superior eye protection during outdoor and other play. Polycarbonate lenses also are lighter than glass or standard plastic lenses for greater comfort.

Secure, properly fitting frames

For the best protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays and to keep dust and other debris from getting in your child's eyes, a relatively large yet close-fitting frame is the best design for children's sunglasses.

Spring hinges

Hinges that extend beyond 90 degrees and have a spring action to keep the fit of the frame snug will decrease the risk of your child's sunglasses falling off or getting damaged during sports and other play.

An elastic band

An elastic sports band that attaches to the end of each of the frame's temples can help prevent loss or damage to children's sunglasses. Choices include a close-fitting band to keep the frame snugly attached to the head during active sports or a looser-fitting strap to allow your child to remove his or her sunglasses yet keep them hanging from the neck for easy on-and-off use.

Avoid the use of a band or cord that might pose a choking risk for an unattended child or toddler.

For superior UV protection, follow the Cancer Council Australia or Cancer Society New Zealand's guidelines.

Beware of cheap sunglasses for children

Many inexpensive children's sunglasses provide excellent UV protection. This is especially true if they include polycarbonate lenses, because the polycarbonate lens material blocks 100 percent of UV rays without the need for added lens filters or coatings.

Some cheap sunglasses for kids can pose other risks. Occasionally, brands of cheap sunglasses for children don't use lenses that block UV and cheap children's sunglasses often are not as durable as high-quality sunglasses for children.

For your child's safety and to get the best quality children's eye-wear, visit your optometrist.

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