When Susan Goewey Carey received an alarming warning via the Internet recently, the mother of an 18-month-old stopped using sunscreen on her daughter. Concerned that others wouldn't protect their kids this summer from the dangers of sunscreens, she forwarded the e-mail to friends.
"I just got this disturbing e-mail that's being forwarded all over," reports Carey, a Vienna resident. "I can't believe kids can actually go blind by getting sunscreen in their eyes! It's the easiest thing to do if you rub it on their hands and then they rub their eyes! And it's waterproof, so you can't wash it out!"
The message Carey and probably thousands of others received is titled "Waterproof Sunscreen Warning." A tear-jerker, it supposedly was written by a mother who unwittingly blinded her 2-year-old son, Zack, when the waterproof sunscreen she applied accidentally got in his eyes.
"He started screaming! So I tried to flush it out with water," recounts the lengthy tale. "But guess what? Didn't matter . . . Remember `Waterproof.' So I just held him and let him cry, thinking the salty tears would flush it all out. But it got worse."
So does the story: The mother rushes Zack to an emergency room. He's blinded for two days. Doctors tell the mother "many kids each year lose their sight to waterproof sunscreen." A manufacturer even admits to her this is a serious risk. She urges, "Pass This Warning On!"
But don't. This is another Internet hoax that started to circulate last summer and has resurfaced in recent weeks. But unlike some online hoaxes that only spread misinformation and cause for concern, this one may persuade some parents to stop protecting their children from the sun.
On Monday, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) issued its own warning. The eye doctor association said it feared this "widely disseminated e-mail letter could unnecessarily frighten parents away from putting sunscreen on their children."
Calling the e-mail "erroneous and alarmist," the academy did advise parents to take care not to get sunscreen in children's eyes. "Any of these sunscreens or suntan lotions can cause fairly significant irritation to the eyes," says Stuart Dankner, spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a pediatric ophthalmologist in Baltimore. "But there is no documented evidence of sunscreen causing blindness or permanent damage," no cases reported to the Poison Control Center, the Food and Drug Administration or manufacturers.
The most severe eye injury sunscreen could cause is a corneal abrasion that might result in moderate discomfort but no long-term after-effects, says Dankner. "Fortunately, our natural mechanisms, the blinking response and profuse tear production, help to remove some of these irritants. But, if sunscreen gets in a child's eyes, rinse the eyes with tap water immediately." Never mind the notion that waterproof sunscreens won't wash out. They do. But if discomfort or pain doesn't subside, see an ophthalmologist.
One other warning from the Academy: "We know now, based upon research, that UV light from the sun can be potentially harmful to children's and adults' eyes over the long term," possibly contributing later in life to cataracts and macular degeneration, says Dankner. "We recommend children on bright sunny days wear the proper UV protection -- sunglasses that are labeled as 100 percent UV protected."
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