Even when they were just one month old, Dr. Adria Burrows, a pediatric ophthalmologist with NJ Eye and Ear Pediatrics, had her two sons wearing sunglasses as they were lying down in their strollers when she took them outside for a walk.
“People would stop me and ask about it,” said Dr. Burrows, who practices in offices in Englewood and Clifton.
The baby boys may have looked pretty cool in their shades, but the doctor-mom said she donned them in sunglasses to protect their eyes from maladies such as cataracts and macular degeneration, eye diseases associated with older adults, but which have their roots early on.
“Wearing sunglasses is very important and not just on sunny days, but on cloudy days as well,” said Dr. Burrows, whose sons, now 24 and 21, never leave the house without sunglasses.
“I have them well trained,” she quipped.
Sunglasses — ones that specify that they protect against UV rays, not the cheap flea market finds — are so protective to the eye that Dr. Burrows recommends children wear them even in the winter, especially if children are outdoors during play or sports.
“The fallacy is that because it is winter and it is cold that sunglasses are not necessary,” said Dr. Burrows. “But the sun is still out and there is potential damage to the eyes’ lenses and retina.
“The sun is a major cause of cataracts and macular degeneration,” she said.
For youngsters who wear prescription eyeglasses, there is always the option of getting transitional lenses, which darken with the sunlight.
In terms of eye care, Dr. Burrows recommends that children as young as 4 begin annual visits to the ophthalmologist.
“Sometimes the pediatrician can miss something,” she said, recalling one case where a 2-year-old had a white pupil that was dismissed by the pediatrician. The parent persisted and it turned out that the child had a malignant tumor.
“The parent often knows when something is wrong,” she said.
Dr. Burrows said she is seeing more glaucoma and ocular hypertension in children these days, unexplained conditions that are becoming more prevalent in a younger population.
She also is seeing more myopia, near-sightedness, likely from all the computer, tablet and cell phone use.
There is new technology for eyeglass lenses, BluTech lenses that help protect the eyes from harmful high-energy blue light, such as harsh fluorescent lighting, computer screens, and personal electronics, which can be an option, she said.
Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of About Our Children.