Along with allergies and asthma, eye conditions are one of the most common long-term health problems that emerge in children. Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows roughly one in six 10-14 year olds needs glasses or contacts to correct vision.
The most common vision problems experienced by children are short-sightedness (difficulty seeing things in the distance) and long-sightedness (difficulty seeing things up-close). If left undiagnosed, eye problems and the resulting blurry vision can negatively impact a child’s academic performance, behaviour and adjustment at school. Poor eyesight can also take the joy out of reading, sports and recreational activities. Luckily, you can take steps to protect your child’s eye health, and with regular testing can keep abreast of any emerging vision problems.
How To Protect Your Child’s Vision
For some children, vision problems will be inherited from their parents. There is a 25-50% chance of a child developing the same eye condition suffered by their parent. While we cannot alter our child’s genes (yet!), we can take steps to protect their eye health and give them the best possible chance of 20/20 vision.
Diet plays an important role in maintaining your child’s overall health, including eye health. Studies show that foods high in lutein and omega-3 fatty acids, such as kale, spinach, collared greens and salmon, can protect eyes from degeneration.
Exercise, like diet, is important to your child’s overall health – but did you know it is also good for our eyes? Studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the risk of eye disease such as macular degeneration by up to 70%.
Reduce screen time. Excessive screen time, in combination with extended periods of time indoors, has been blamed by experts for increasing levels of short-sightedness among young people across America, Australia and parts of Asia. While the brightness and colour of outdoor, natural light relaxes and strengthens the eye, high-levels of screen exposure stresses and damages your child’s vision. If a child has a natural predisposition to poor eye health, excessive exposure to digital screens will exacerbate this risk and will also increase your child’s chances of developing more complex eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts in later life. Children who spend two to three hours in front of screens (iPhone, computer, television etc.) and less than 1.5 hours outside per day are two to three times more likely to develop short-sightedness. Get your children exercising in the outdoors to protect their eye health!
Protective eyewear such as sunglasses or goggles should be worn as necessary. Children’s sunglasses do not need to be expensive in order to block out UV rays. If your child has been prescribed glasses or contacts, ensure they are wearing them as advised to avoid increasing eye strain.
Passive smoking will damage your child’s health just as it damages the smoker’s – keep your children away from cigarette smoke and protect them from the associated eye damage.
If your child displays any of the following behaviours, it may be a sign that they require an eye test:
- Consistently sitting too close to (short-sightedness) or too far from (long-sightedness) the television
- Consistently squinting, closing one eye or tilting the head in order to see better
- Excessively watery or gunky eyes
- Avoiding or complaining about activities that require eye focus, such as reading, using the computer or sports
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
- Lower grades than usual, or reports from school of being “unfocused”
How Often Should Your Child’s Eyes Be Tested
As mentioned earlier, undiagnosed and untreated eye problems can increase vision damage and negatively impact on your child’s school, social and home life. Regular testing and early intervention can significantly reduce the damage caused by eye problems.
Children should have their first comprehensive eye test at six months of age, again at three years and again just before beginning school. After beginning school, it is recommended your child has an eye test every two years to monitor their eye health. However, if you notice any warning signs, consider taking your child in for an extra visit to test for emerging vision problems. Your family doctor should be able to recommend an optometrist in your area, so you can keep your child’s eye checks up to date.
With sunglasses, a healthy diet, regular exercise outdoors, limited screen time and regular testing, you can keep your child’s vision stronger for longer.
Adrian is a freelance writer who has recently been doing some work for OPSM Australia. Some of his passions include business, marketing, and technology. In his spare time you will find him outdoors enjoying Sydney’s beautiful weather while training for his next marathon.
Disclaimer: This is a guest post from Adrian Cordiner for OPSM.