Children’s Eyes and Risks Associated With Sun Exposure

Protecting your child from UV damage now will decrease the potential for serious eye problems later in life.

Last Updated: March 27, 2023

Video: How do I protect my baby's eyes from harmful UV? | Dr. Joe Chan

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is an invisible component of sunlight that is most commonly known to cause sunburns and skin cancers.1 Just like the skin, your eyes are vulnerable to UV exposure from the sun as well. Sunburn to the eye is called photokeratitis, which is painful and can occurs after short periods of direct sunlight.2 Exposure to UV is cumulative and can lead to long term eye health problems, such as unwanted growth on surface of the eyes (pterygium),3 cataracts,4 age-related macular degenerations,5 and cancer (ocular melanoma).6

As a result of spending more time outdoors than the average adult, children receive approximately three times the annual adult dose of UV.7 Additionally, the crystalline lens in children’s eyes has less capability to filter UV than adult eyes.8 The World Health Organization reports that a significant part of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV occurs before age 18 and children require special protection.9

Protecting your child now will decrease the potential for serious eye problems later in life. To help reduce UV damage to your child’s eyes, consider the following tips:

Watch for UV Index

Be conscious of the daily UV index and the many sources of UV radiation, including direct sunlight and reflections from snow, water, sand and pavement.

Wear sun protection

Have your child wear sun protection, such as sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap, when outdoors.

Don’t stare at the sun

Teach your child to never look directly into or stare at the sun.

Avoid midday Sun

When possible, avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as the sun’s rays are the strongest during these hours. If not possible, wear proper sun protection including sunglasses. Keep children younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Use a canopy or umbrella as a sun-shield when outdoors.

Sunglasses protect both the skin around the eye as well as the eye itself. Before choosing sunglasses for your child, it is important to see your Doctor of Optometry for a thorough eye examination to ensure your child’s eyes are healthy and take any current eye conditions into consideration, such as the need for prescription glasses.

If your child requires prescription glasses, consider:

  • Variable tint or transitions lenses that darken when exposed to UV light
  • A separate pair of glasses with tinted lenses and UV400 protective coating for outdoor use
  • Contact lenses with UV protection which can be an added layer to help prevent harmful UV radiation from reaching the surface and inside of your child’s eyes.

If your child does not require prescription glasses, choose sunglasses with:

  • A close-fitting, wrap around style frame
  • 100% UVA and UVB blocking lenses
  • Impact resistant lenses

The quality of sunglasses is important. Sunglasses with anti-reflective coating on both sides of the lens are better as it prevents both front and back glare. In addition to UV protection, the quality of the materials and consistency of the tints is crucial in providing good optics for comfortable viewing. Imperfections in the lenses can distort vision, causing a mild headache or eyestrain when the sunglasses are worn. To ensure that your child is wearing a quality pair of sunglasses visit your optometrist or a reputable retailer.


  1. Gonzaga ER. Role of UV light in photodamage, skin aginig, and skin cancer. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2009;10:19-24.
  2. Pitts DG et al. The effects of ultraviolet on the eye. Am Ind Hyg. 1971;32(4):235-246.
  3. Moran DJ et al. Pterygium and ultraviolet radiation: a positive correlation. B J Ophthalmol. 1984;68(5):343-346.
  4. Taylor HR. The biological effects of UV‐B on the eye. Photochem Photobiol. 1989;50(4):489-492.
  5. Chalam KV et al. A review: role of ultraviolet radiation in age related macular degeneration. Eye Contact Lens. 2011;37(4):225-232.
  6. Jovanovic P et al. Ocular melanoma: an overview of the current status. In J Clin Exp. 2013;6(7):1230.
  7. Stern RS et al. Risk reduction for nonmelanoma skin cancer with childhood sunscreen use. Arch Dermatol. 1986;122:537-545.
  8. Reme C et al. Light damage revisited: converging evidence, diverging views? Graefe’s Arch Clin Experiment Ophthalmol. 1996;234(1):2-11.
  9. World Health Organization. (2003). Radiation: sun protection. Retrieved from WHO: