Sunglasses add another layer of protection for kids while under the Florida sun, doctors say

The three Lankford sisters love to race around the sidewalks of their neighborhood on scooters. When they do, their father, Mike, knows there's one thing they can't outrun. 

"They call it the Sunshine State and the sun's usually out," he said.  

That's why he has them grab a pair of sunglasses when they head outside. 

"We definitely think about it a lot," Mike explained. "I always have mine on, so I try to encourage them to wear theirs as well."

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Pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Ronnie Chen, with The Florida Eye Specialist and Cataract Institute, said that's a great idea, but unfortunately, most parents don't do it. One survey found 72% of parents apply sunblock to their kids, but only 30% use sunglasses. 

"But it’s the same type of exposure, so really those numbers should be the same," said Dr. Chen.

That's UV, or ultraviolet, exposure. It's something all Floridians need to be aware of. And when it comes to protecting your eyes from UV damage, it's more of a marathon than a sprint. 

"People who have long-term UV exposure, they have a higher risk for developing cataracts, they can get growths on the white of their eyes, and even an increased risk for macular degeneration. It's a lifetime risk," Dr. Chen explained.

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That's why starting protection, with a pair of sunglasses, at an early age is important. They don’t have to be fancy, expensive sunglasses. After all, kids lose everything. 

Dr. Chen said no matter what sunglasses you buy, there's one absolute 'must-have'. 

"There is a label. It says UVA/UVB blocking. As long as it says 100% UAV/UAB, you’re good!"

Here's a few more sunglass tips from Dr. Chen. If they fall off a lot, try sunglasses with a strap. During sports, make sure kids wear polycarbonate lenses that won't shatter. 

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And lastly, don't force the issue. If a young child refuses to wear sunglasses, try a hat until they're a little older.

It's all about keeping a healthy balance with one of Florida's greatest features. 

"We don’t have to be terrified of the sun," Dr. Chen said, "we just need to be reasonable."