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14 October 2010

The sun can blind children

National Healthy Sight Survey finds parents could be putting their children’s eyes at risk.

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With summer fast approaching, parents should be keeping a closer eye on their children's vision. According to research from the 2010 Transitions Healthy Sight Survey, which was released to coincide with World Sight Day on 14 October 2010, only a third (34%) of South African parents actively protect their children's eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Worrying considering children spend - on average - three times more time outdoors than adults and yet only one in 10 children wear UV protective sunglasses.

"Most parents know the irreversible damage UV rays can have on the skin but few are aware of the potential danger repeated UV exposure poses to eye health," says Dr Caradee Wright, senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria. Whilst eyes of all ages need UV protection, children’s crystalline lenses are incapable of filtering out UV light. As the damaging effects of UV rays are cumulative, extended exposure over many years can lead to the early onset of cataracts and macular degeneration later in life.

UV damage is cumulative

Increased life expectancy of today’s young people further adds to a child’s eventual risk of developing vision problems. Therefore, protecting the eyes at an early age is essential. Proper lenses can safely block UV radiation and wearing a hat can cut by half the amount of UV rays that reach the eyes.

"Parents need to be informed that UV damage is cumulative and more often than not only detected much later in adulthood. Early prevention of extended UV exposure is better than the possibility of a cure in the long term," adds Wright. "Parents should also bear in mind that UV protection is needed year-round, even on cloudy days as over 90% of UV rays can penetrate light clouds."

In addition, the Transitions Healthy Sight Survey revealed that only 10% of South African children wear spectacle lenses with built-in UV protection. "This is not entirely surprising since most adults are not aware of the benefits of premium lens options for themselves, much less for their children," says Riette Botha, business manager for Transitions Optical South Africa (SA).

"Young eyes are sensitive to bright sunlight and glare. As Transitions® adaptive lenses automatically adapt to changing light it’s easier for children to see better while significantly reducing the discomfort of squinting, eye strain and eye fatigue."

Eyewear for children has advanced significantly in recent years and can now address unique visual needs as well as long-term eye health concerns like never before.

Eyewear should provide 100% protection

All types of eyewear, including sunglasses and prescription spectacles, should provide 100% UV protection.

"If your child does need everyday corrective spectacles, Transitions® adaptive lenses, which automatically adapt from clear indoors to dark outdoors when exposed to UV light, are the ideal option. Transitions® adaptive lenses automatically provide 100 percent protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays. "Transitions® adaptive lenses can also help boost a child's willingness to wear glasses," adds Botha.

Vision plays a key role in a child’s early functional, educational and social development and approximately 80% of learning in a child’s first 12 years comes from the eyes3. Changes in children’s vision can occur without parents noticing them.

This is why it is recommended children undergo regular eye exams as they grow and as their eyes continue to change and adapt.

Furthermore, conditions such as myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism, all of which can have an impact on a child's ability to learn and perform in the classroom, are easily detected by means of an eye exam.

Educating children today about their vision and how to better take care of their eyes can help prevent irreversible eye damage in future. To shed light on the amazing world of vision, the educational and interactive website intended for children and their parents Eye Know Eye Care (www.eyeknoweyecare.co.za) features amazing eye facts, the eye’s anatomy, the dangers of UV exposure and information on visual impairments. It also features fun eye games, such as optical illusions, and explains what happens during an eye examination.

Did you know?

  • One child goes blind every minute in the world. (World Health Organisation)
  • More than 12 million children aged five to 15 are visually impaired because of uncorrected refractive errors (near-sightedness, far-sightedness or astigmatism). (World Health Organisation)
  • The clear crystalline lens of the child under age 10 transmits more than 75% of incident UV rays, compared to only 10% at age 30. (Healthy Sight Counseling and Children, 2007)
  • Sunglasses that have not been treated for UV rays may be more detrimental to your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all. Dark lenses reduce the amount of light entering the eye, causing the pupil to dilate. This exposes the inside of your eye to more UV radiation than without the sunglasses.  
  • Many surfaces reflect the sun’s rays and add to the overall UV exposure, e.g. grass, soil and water reflect less than 10% of UV radiation; fresh snow reflects up to 80%; dry beach sand reflects 15%, and sea foam reflects 25%.
  • UV increases by 4% for each 300 metre increase in altitude.

Children spend much time in school, and UV radiation exposure during the school years contributes significantly to total lifetime sun exposure.

(Press release, October 2010)

 
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