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Sunglasses provide more than just a cool look for kids.

Some parents coat their offspring in sunscreen before allowing them outside to play in the summer, but fail to think about the youngsters' eyes. Children need protection from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light rays, cautions Oscar A. Cruz, assistant professor of ophthalmology at St. Louis University School of Medicine and director of pediatric ophthalmology at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Although studies have shown no immediate damage to the eye from excessive light, the cumulative effects of exposure can be harmful. Research has determined that there may be a relationship between sun exposure and the incidence of cataracts, a clouding of the normally clear crystalline lens of the eye. Moreover, exposure to excessive light eventually may lead to retinal degeneration.

Besides the possibility of delaying the onset of visual complications, children and adults are more comfortable wearing sunglasses than squinting in the sun. Many ophthalmologists recommend that kids begin wearing sunglasses at age three or four. Cruz offers the following suggestions for parents in search of the right pair:

* If your youngster already needs prescription glasses, make sure to add UV protection. Look for labels that indicate the glasses block 99 to 100% of all UV light.

* Don't be fooled by kiddie fashion. The dark sunglasses with cartoon characters in the corners might be cute and a hit with the kids, but they don't always offer the best protection. In fact, they may do more harm than good. If the dark lenses lack adequate UV protection, the only purpose they serve is to dilate the child's pupils. The larger the pupil, the more light reaches the retina, making it and other internal structures of the eye more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays.

* Spending more doesn't mean you're getting more. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found very little quality difference between the cheapest and most expensive sunglasses.

* The color or the darkness of the lens gives no indication of the UV-absorbing characteristics. Gray lenses might be the better choice because they don't alter the perception of natural color. For many people, amber and brown lenses provide a more pleasant environment without significantly altering natural colors. Green results in the greatest degree of color distortion. Yellow or pink lenses absorb little visible light.

* It's not necessary for children to wear sunglasses every time they go outside, but it's wise to wear them between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays reach their peak. Don't be misled by overcast skies. UV rays penetrate the clouds.

* For youngsters too small for sunglasses, make sure they wear a hat with a brim. It keeps the glare off the face and blocks at least some of the UV radiation from the eyes.
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Title Annotation:children should wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays from sunlight
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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