SANTA ANA, Calif. - Whenever they head outdoors, Cathy Bartz's two children always wear sunglasses.
It's part of a routine that goes like this: sunscreen on the skin, hat on the head and sunglasses over the eyes.
Such practice is not as common as it should be, said Robert Lee, a pediatric optometrist.
More often than not, parents wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun, but the kids don't.
"Parents will spend $200 for sunglasses for themselves, but they don't think to buy their kids sunglasses," said Lee, clinical assistant professor at the Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, Calif.
Sometimes, the idea of sunglasses for children just doesn't cross dads' and moms' minds, Lee said. In other cases, they think children seem fine being outdoors without sunglasses. Some kids refuse to wear sunglasses - or lose them so often that parents don't want to bother buying another pair.
It doesn't help that there's no medical consensus on the value of children's sunglasses. Experts are divided.
"Generally, I don't say to parents that their children should wear sunglasses every time they're outside," said Dr. Florencio Ching, pediatric ophthalmologist at Children's Hospital. "There's no scientific basis for that."
There's a lack of studies showing that a lot of exposure to UV rays during childhood can result in cataracts later in life, Ching said.
Children should wear sunglasses if they are going to be in the sun for long periods or if they're in areas where the potential for ultraviolet-ray exposure is greater, such as at the beach or on ski slopes, Ching said.
But sunglasses are not a must if children are outside for short periods and if they wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades their eyes, Ching said.
Other experts say there are enough reasons for children to be in the habit of wearing UV-protective sunglasses outside as soon as possible. First, most of the damage from UV light occurs before kids turn 18 years old, Lee said.
Last, the lens of a child's eye is clear - unlike that of adults - and therefore allows in more UV light, he explained. The American Academy of Ophthalmology echoes that view.
Two years ago, Bartz, of Newport Beach, Calif., noticed that Ryan, 3, the younger of her two children, often squinted and seemed uncomfortable outside on very sunny days. He and his sister, Julianne, 5, have blue eyes and fair skin. A visit to a pediatric ophthalmologist confirmed what she suspected: Ryan was reacting to bright sunlight.
Today, both kids own at least four pairs of sunglasses, which they wear without protest.
"You have to make a decision about whether this is important enough for you because it's one more thing to keep track of when they're outside," Bartz said. "It was important enough to us because of our kids' sensitive eyes."
Here, Lee and Robert Silva, pediatric optician at A Child's View in Mission Viejo, Calif., a specialty optical store, offer advice to parents on kids' sunglasses:
UV-protection claims. Not all sunglasses that claim to protect against harmful UV rays do the job. Sunglasses need to block 99 percent to 100 percent of harmful UV-A and UV-B rays. Ask help from a pediatric optician or choose sunglasses from reputable sunglass manufacturers that can provide you with more information on their products.
Frame fit. Sunglasses should rest comfortably on the nose bridge and around the ears but not touch the cheeks. They should not slide down the nose. An optician can help adjust the fit, especially for kids whose nose bridge is small or low. Do not choose sunglasses that a child can "grow into." Infants might feel more comfortable wearing sunglasses made of more flexible plastic.
Lens material and quality. Polycarbonate is best for kids because it is impact-resistant. Check for distortions or bubbles by looking through the lenses while viewing a straight horizontal or vertical line such as that in a window frame. The line should not have any curves or waves.
Lightness/darkness of lens. The darkness of a lens is not an indicator of UV protection. Dark lenses that have no UV protection can harm the eyes because they cause the pupils to dilate and let in more UV light.
Style. Choose wraparound styles that prevent UV light from entering from all sides. Involve your older toddlers and children in choosing their sunglasses. Make it a fun experience. They are more likely to wear something they like. Edit the selection, giving them several styles from which to choose.
Glare. If your child participates in sports in which he or she faces a lot of glare, such as water-skiing and snowboarding, consider polarized lenses. Polarization reduces the glare.
Role model. Set an example by wearing sunglasses, too. And be consistent. If kids are taught that they have to wear sunglasses every time they head outdoors, this becomes a routine, just as they would wear a hat and put on sunscreen. Make it a fun thing to do. For younger kids, this can mean giving them a small reward every time they comply.
(c) 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.