Protect Your Child’s Eyes: August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

With the dramatic increase in digital learning, especially over the past year with COVID-19, comes some consequences on children’s eyes. There has been a marked increase in children experiencing dry eye and eye strain due to prolonged screen time. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has named August “Children’s Eye Health & Safety Month.”

While some are going back to in-person schooling, it still only decreases the risks of onsetting nearsightedness so much. Even with non-digital learning tools such as books or other things that a child focuses on closely in front of them, there is still a need for resting their eyes, intentionally blinking, and looking at things further away to prevent discomfort.

It is particularly important to schedule time in natural light and away from screens in order to protect your children’s eyes. Some studies suggest that spending time outdoors may slow the onset and progression of nearsightedness. The general consensus within the scientific community is that spending time outdoors balances out close-up work and helps maintain strong and healthy eyes in children.

The World Health Organization recommends that children under 5 spend one hour or less per day on digital devices, and children under 1 spend no time on digital devices. The Children’s Eye Foundationrecommends daily outdoor play, no screen time for those under age 2, a maximum of 1-2 hours per day for kids ages 2 to 5 and guided screen time with frequent breaks for kids over 5.

Parents can protect their children’s eyes by managing their children’s screen time to support educational use while limiting cartoons and video games. They can also encourage more outdoor activities while maintaining social distancing and other CDC guidelines. Parents can accomplish this by creating a schedule, setting limits on screen time, and planning ahead for outdoor activities.

Parents and educators can also check out these tips for eye health from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Here are a few recommendations:
Take a 20-second break from closeup work every 20 minutes
– Set a timer to remind kids to take those breaks
– Keep digital media 18 to 24 inches away from the face

Dr. Steven Rhee of Hawaiian Eye Center shares, “An increase in screen-time and decreased time spent outdoors may harm children’s vision and can put them at higher risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness.

This condition can sometimes lead to even more serious eye conditions in their adulthood.”  While doctors and scientists are still learning exactly how myopia develops and progresses, we do know that it can occur when the eye’s focusing power is too strong, causing light rays to focus in front of the retina instead of on top of it, creating a blurry image in the field of vision.

Nearsightedness can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses, but it can lead to a number of eye problems later in adulthood, such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Preventative measures and proper ongoing care for eyes creates the best conditions for children’s eyes as they continue to develop. A collection of more than 25 years of research proves that working up close (reading or using a tablet) does increase the chances of developing myopia.

Dr. Rhee closes, “While there is a stereotype about children today having a short attention span, it can be easy for a child to hyper-fixate on a screen or even a book! It is important to remind them to look away, spend time outside, and properly lubricate their eyes by blinking regularly.”

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