UV radiation causes sunburn and skin cancer and accelerates skin aging. Overexposure to UV radiation can lead to inflammations of the cornea and the conjunctiva in the eye, and causes or accelerates cataract development. Currently, one in five North Americans and one in two Australians will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
Consider some of the following facts from the World Health Organization:
Excessive UV exposure results in a number of chronic skin changes.
- Cutaneous malignant melanoma: a life-threatening malignant skin cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: a malignant cancer, which generally progresses less rapidly than melanoma and is less likely to cause death.
- Basal cell carcinoma of the skin: a slow-growing skin cancer appearing predominantly in older people.
- Photo-aging: a loss of skin tightness and the development of solar keratoses.
A person’s skin type is also important. Fair-skinned people suffer more from sunburn and have a higher risk of skin cancer than dark-skinned people. However, even though the incidence of skin cancer is lower in dark-skinned people, the cancers are often detected at a later, more dangerous stage. The risk of eye damage, premature aging of the skin and immunosuppression is independent of skin type.
Effects on the eyes
Acute effects of UV radiation include photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva, respectively). These effects are easily prevented by protective eyewear and are not associated with any long-term damage.
Chronic effects of UV radiation on the eyes include:
- Cataract: an eye disease where the lens becomes increasingly opaque, resulting in impaired vision and eventual blindness;
- Pterygium: a white or creamy fleshy growth on the surface of the eye;
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the cornea or conjunctiva: a rare tumour of the surface of the eye.
Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Excessive sun exposure in children is likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to a safe environment. Children require special protection as they are at a higher risk of suffering damage from exposure to UV radiation than adults, in particular:
- A child’s skin is thinner and more sensitive and even a short time outdoors in the midday sun can result in serious burns.
- Epidemiological studies demonstrate that frequent sun exposure and sunburn in childhood set the stage for high rates of melanoma later in life.
- Children have more time to develop diseases with long latency, more years of life to be lost and more suffering to be endured as a result of impaired health. Increased life expectancy further adds to people’s risk of developing skin cancers and cataracts.
- Children are more exposed to the sun. Estimates suggest that up to 80 per cent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV is received before the age of 18 .
- Children love playing outdoors but usually are not aware of the harmful effects of UV radiation.
Caring for children in the sun
According to an Australian study, four out of five cases of skin cancer are preventable by sensible behaviour. Encouraging children to take simple precautions will prevent both short-term and long-term damage while still allowing them to enjoy the time they spend outdoors. Parents should serve as role models, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their children are protected adequately. Always keep infants of less than 12 months in the shade and make sure your children:
- Cover up with protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+.
- Limit their time in the midday sun.
- Seek shade.
- Avoid sunlamps and tanning parlors.
Shade, clothing and hats provide the best protection for children – applying sunscreen becomes necessary on those parts of the body that remain exposed like the face and hands. Sunscreen should never be used to prolong the duration of sun exposure.
Sunglasses are also an important tool to protect your child’s eyes from UV damage. Sunglasses labeled 100% UV protection, or preferably, 100% UVA and UVB protection are the best choices.
Encouraging children to take the simple precautions above will prevent both short-term and long-term damage while still allowing them to enjoy the time they spend outdoors.
If you have any questions on how you can further protect your child’s eye from environmental dangers please contact us.
Are Your Children Protected from UV Radiation?