While cautious people slather themselves and their children with high-powered sunscreens, some doctors worry that they still may not be ready to face the intensified threat from the sun. Too many people, they say, are leaving the body's most sophisticated and sensitive sensory organs -- the eyes -- exposed.
Several studies have shown that increased UV radiation leads to increased risk of cataracts. Most notable among them was a 1985-86 survey of 838 Chesapeake Bay watermen. Those who " spent the most time in the sun and wore the least protection -- no sunglasses and hats -- had a higher incidence of the disease.
"It's a cumulative effect," says Andreas Kornhauser, chief oocular and dermal toxicology for the Food and Drug Administration. Though few studies have been done on the BTC degree of damage that UV rays can do to the eye, Dr. Kornhauser and other scientists are convinced that "the more UV radiation, the greater the risk" of cataracts, one of the leading causes of blindness in older Americans.
The preventive medicine is hardly revolutionary: UV-filtering sun
glasses. But lately ophthalmologists and other eye specialists have become more zealous in their campaign. And some are recommending that very young children, even infants, wear protective lenses.
Eye doctors are wary of promoting hysteria. Cataracts usually develop over decades. If a child goes to a baseball game without his shades, he won't come home with a cataract. and a real threat."
But in the past, UV-filtering sunglasses for youngsters were scarce; for infants, they're still virtually nonexistent.
Some parents, says Brenda Morales Nigro at Philadelphia'Eyeglass Encounters stores, have ordered custom-made, nonprescription sunglasses for their youngsters, shelling out as much as $30 to $80.
Now, mainstream manufacturers are coming out with mini-shades.
Among other manufacturers, Ray-Ban offers Smart Start ($60), a line for children as young as 9 or 10. And international Tropic-Cal in Commerce, Calif., which already makes I-Ski and Camp Beverly Hills sunglasses for children ages 6 and up ($5 to $10), is working on marketing "little teeny-weeny things" for infants ($4 to $6), says a spokeswoman.