The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Protecting Eyes While Playing Outside

Written by
Amber Freeland
Posted in

Friday, Jun 14, 2019

School is out, summer is here, and longer days mean more time for kids to get outside and play. We’ve talked before about the many benefits of outdoor play to improve growth and development as well as their overall health and wellness. But, let’s not forget to protect children’s eyes while playing outside.    

As adults, it’s almost second nature to put on sunglasses when we step outside. Do you ever stop to think about whether your kids need the same protection? According to the Vision Council, parents are 56% more likely to wear shades than their children and only 29% of children wear them at all.

On average, kids who are busy playing outdoors and on a sports team generally get three times the annual sun exposure of adults. That’s the equivalent of approximately 55 days a year exposed to the sun. “This can lead to serious eye damage later in life,” says Justin Bazan, OD, Medical Advisor to The Vision Council. 

While outdoor play is a good way to increase physical activity levels and reduce screen time, we can’t ignore the risks of too much sun exposure. Children’s eyes are more sensitive to UV exposure, the effects of which may last long into adulthood. UV exposure has also been linked to cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and melanoma of the eye. And just like your skin, eyes can also be sunburned. 

Vision Impact Institute: UV Protection Report

Eye color can also play a role in UV sensitivity. Just like skin color, eye color is created by melanin. More melanin means better protection from the sun as the darker eye color protects the retina. However, people with dark brown eyes are more likely to develop cataracts while those with light colored eyes like blue, green or grey are more sensitive to light and more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration.    

Regardless of eye color, make sure that you and your children protect your eyesight by wearing shades. 

“Look for child-appropriate sunglasses that feature a strap or that are adjustable. Shopping for the right pair alongside your child may help encourage him or her to use them if they are comfortable and stylish. Parents should set an example for proper eye protection by wearing sunglasses every time they go outside as well," said Bazan. 

Getting kids to play more outside is a huge step in reducing screen time and eye strain while increasing physical activity. Just make sure that everyone protects their eyes from the sun to avoid long-lasting damage.