My blue-eyed two-year-old son is obsessed with sunglasses. He’s always trying mine on, so I recently bought him a cheap, child-sized pair.

He was thrilled, but the first thing my husband asked when I got them home was “Are they safe?”

It hadn’t really occurred to me that they might not be, and I ended up digging the label out of the bin to check whether they offered full UV protection.

While the dangers of exposing our skin to the sun are well-reported, the damage UV rays can do to our eyesight often gets sidelined. But worryingly, research has found that, while we might love a trendy pair of sunnies, we’re more than a little clueless about why we need to wear ones with proper UV protection.

Sunburnt cornea

The Think About Your Eyes campaign found that only 8% of the 1,000 people they questioned knew that over-exposure to UV rays could lead to Photokeratitis – a form of sunburn on the cornea - which makes eyes feel gritty and sore and can lead to temporary loss of vision.

Unsafe limits

Despite the warnings, only two thirds (63.5%) of people protected their eyes when on holiday abroad, dropping to just over half (53%) for those holidaying in the UK. Clearly we Brits think that we can’t get burnt if we’re not having fun, with less than a third (32.9%) bothering to protect their eyes while working outside.

The study also found that Brits were exposing themselves to seven times the safe daily limit of UV light in the summer months – spending an average of an hour and 45 minutes in the sun.

‘Designer’ glasses offer no protection

Experts say many flimsy, designer sunglasses offer little to no protection and exposure to UV rays could contribute to macular degeneration, which starts with fuzzy vision and is the leading cause of blindness in America, as well as cataracts, a clouding of the lens.

In the last six months, there’s been a 41% increase in requests for cataract surgery, according to surgery consultants Clinic Compare.

Start them young

Optician Andy Hepworth says sun damage to our eyes can begin in childhood, as children’s eyes are even more sensitive than adults: “Children’s eyes are more transparent and they have wider pupils, allowing more UV light to pass to the back than in adults. Children are also more likely to spend time outdoors during the day so their exposure is greater.

“As damage is cumulative, it’s important to start good habits early and reduce the likelihood of early onset of cataracts as well as macular degeneration and skin cancer in the future.”