Protect Your Child’s Eyes and Vision!

by Janet Kelley

With summer ending and a new school year beginning, comes an increase in computer and screen usage, as well as new germ exposures and transmissible variants in our classrooms. Both of which can have serious consequences on our children’s eyes and vision.

The rise of digital learning has marked an increase of children experiencing dry eye and eye strain due to prolonged screen time, while full capacity classrooms can become hotspots for colds, viruses, and germs that may cause eye injuries or infections.

In support of raising awareness to these issues, The American Academy of Ophthalmology has named August “Children’s Eye Health & Safety Month.”

Though many schools are returning to in-person teaching after the nation mandated COVID-19 lockdowns, there are still risks for nearsightedness along with other vision concerns to look out for.

Even with non-digital learning tools such as books or other things, it is estimated that roughly 80% of classroom learning is visual. That means there is still a crucial need to monitor and maintain our children’s eye health.

Within the classroom, this can be done by resting their eyes, intentionally blinking, and looking at things further away to prevent discomfort.

It is particularly important for children to spend at least a couple hours a day in natural light and have some time away from digital screens in order to protect their 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 one year old spend no time on digital devices.

The Children’s Eye Foundation recommends daily outdoor play, no screen time for those under age 2, a maximum of one to two hours per day for kids ages 2 to 5 and guided screen time with frequent breaks for kids over 5.

Parents can help protect and preserve their children’s eye health and vision by managing their children’s screen time to support educational use while limiting cartoons and video games. Parents can also encourage more outdoor activities by creating a schedule, setting limits on screen time, and planning ahead for outdoor activities.

Other recommendations to protect and preserve your children’s eye health are:

– Encourage 20-second breaks 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
– Introduce nutritious and balanced meals and snacks full of vitamins A, C, and E
– Make sure they are getting a full and well rested sleep
– Protect their eyes outside with proper eyewear

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.”

“Increased screen-time and a lack of natural light and time spent outdoors can be harmful to our children’s vision and eye health. These circumstances can put our keiki at a higher risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness. My biggest concern is that these kinds of conditions can sometimes follow them into adulthood and worsen,” he explained.

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.

This can make it extremely difficult for children to learn and excel in school and may cause eye pain or headaches.

Although nearsightedness can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses, it can still lead to several eye problems later on such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The best way to try and stop this from happening to your children’s eyes is to take the proper preventative measures and ongoing eyecare as their eyes and vision continue to develop.

“I know there is this stereotype of children today having a short attention span or difficulty concentrating, but I think we forget that there is also a number of new factors at play that may be contributing to this.” Dr. Rhee closes,

“It may be a sign that your child is having vision problems and needs you to help them get the right support. We should be reminding them to take breaks, spend time outside, properly lubricate their eyes by blinking regularly.”

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