Your eyes can get sunburnt too. How to protect them this Summer.

UV rays can have a serious impact on your child's eyes.

By Rebel Wylie
Thanks to years of the 'slip, slop and slap' message being driven home, we all know about the link between UV (ultraviolet) damage and skin cancer, but it doesn't stop there.
UV rays can also have a serious impact on your eyes. Everyone, especially children, can be affected by UV damage and if you're spending a lot of time in the sun, you're automatically at risk. The effect increases the more exposure you get, so the earlier we start protecting our children and ourselves, the better.
The fact that Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world means that we need to do all we can to protect our little ones from summer damage that could impact the rest of their lives.
"It is important to protect your child's eyes from the harmful UV rays," says Optometrist Robyn Weinberg from Stacey and Stacey.
"In the same way as we "slip, slop, slap" applying sunscreen on our children as well as wearing a hat, sunglasses with a good UV filter is important for children in their formative years, protecting and preventing problems that may result from exposure to harmful UV rays.
"Whilst the effects are potentially only apparent down the track and into the future, parents should be proactive in protecting the health of their children's eyes."

Some of the more serious eye conditions that are caused by UV rays include:
  • Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of age-related blindness in Australia with approximately 1 in 7 Australians over 50 showing early signs of this disease. Caused by the deterioration of the retina, UV radiation significantly increases the risk of developing this eye disease.
  • Cataracts describe the clouding of the crystalline lens behind the pupil, leading to blurry vision. This condition accounts for 51% of global blindness and can be treated surgically with the removal of the cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear plastic replacement lens. Research has found that UV rays can induce the formation of cataracts, making it so important to book an eye test with your optometrist at least every two years – and more regularly if you notice any eye problems.
  • Pterygium is when the white skin of the eye starts encroaching onto the coloured part of the eye and it can become inflamed, red and irritated. A non-cancerous growth that's quite common in surfers or those who spend a lot of time around water or outdoors, Pterygium is caused by too much exposure to the UV light, pollen, sand and wind.
  • Skin cancers are usually found around the eyelids and toward the nose, but these melanomas can occur anywhere in the eye - the retina included.
  • Photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness, occurs when the delicate skin of the cornea gets sunburnt. Photokeratitis can be extremely painful and even cause temporary vision loss.
Optometrist Robyn Weinberg explains: "Your glasses should be sitting close to the bridge of your nose without touching the eyelashes and have side protection or wrap-around to block out side glare." (Image: Supplied)
"Children learn more through their eyes than any of the other senses," says Weinberg.
"The increased use of digital device use amongst children has led to a higher prevalence of myopia (short sightedness). The latest research in preventing the rapid progression of short sightedness in children suggests that all children should have more exposure to sunlight and spend at least 2 hours a day outdoors.
"Restricting screen time together with sunlight is the best way to protect against progression."
WATCH: What Monica Zanetti would say to her 16-year-old self
The signs and symptoms of your child having an eye problem include eye rubbing, headaches, a head tilt, squinting of the eyes, getting closer to the tv or difficulty with reading.
"One in five Australian children have an undetected vision problem," says Weinberg. "Children are unable to articulate or describe their blurred vision, so regular monitoring of vision and eye health should be done at least once every two years.