Childhood is a critical time for both vision development and protection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 80% of what a child learns in school is presented visually.
“Poor vision can negatively impact your child’s academic performance,” says Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics, “and undetected vision problems can cause developmental and educational delays. Is vital to screen early and to protect your child’s eye health and vision.”
Dr. Alzein shares eight ways to help your child’s eyes and vision stay healthy.
1 – Regulate Screen Time
Dr. Alzein says, “We’ve all heard so much about the dangers of too much screen time, but as millions of students nationwide start to settle into virtual learning programs, it can be difficult to regulate screen time when tablets and laptops are their sources of education. As parents, what can we do?”
He strongly suggests putting strict limits on recreational screen time, the time after school and learning, and following these guidelines:
• Adopt the 20:20:20 rule: every 20 minutes have children take a break for at least 20 seconds by looking 20 feet away. Set a timer every 20 minutes so your child remembers to take the break.
• Ensure that your child’s screen is about 18” away from their eyes and face and is below eye level.
• Apply blue light filters or download blue light filtering apps to all digital devices. If your child wears prescription glasses, ask their doctor about adding blue light blocking to their lenses.
2 – Purchase Protective Eyewear
The sun’s powerful UV rays can wreak havoc on sensitive eye tissue. This can cause permanent damage and serious eye conditions. High-quality, protective eyewear is a must for outdoor activity. Try to get your child into consistent sun protection habits at an early age.
More children are beginning to use screens at an early age. While it’s important to limit screen time, sometimes children must use electronic devices for activities such as schoolwork. However, the blue light many screens emit can cause eye strain. Reduce this by having your child wear blue light filtering glasses during their screen time.
3 – Maintain Proper Hygiene
Make sure your children understand the importance of washing their hands before touching their eyes. Good hygiene helps to prevent contagious conditions such as pink eye, keratitis, or endophthalmitis, among the top reasons that ophthalmologists need to be consulted. It’s also essential to prevent infectious diseases and viruses such as COVID-19 and seasonal flu.
4 – Know Your Genetics
Your family’s eye history is helpful to understand your child’s risk of diseases and vision problems. While serious conditions such as glaucoma and retinal degeneration are genetic, so are vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. If eye problems run in your family be sure to inform your child’s physician so they can monitor your child appropriately.
5 – Schedule Regular Eye Exams
Good vision is important to your child’s physical development, academic success, and overall well-being. Visual abnormalities can be difficult for parents to detect. Your kids don’t know how well or poorly they can see!
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) recommend vision screenings be regularly conducted on children. These should begin at birth and continue throughout their school years.
The earlier an eye problem is detected, the earlier an appropriate treatment can be recommended for vision correction and life-long benefits.
6 – Increase Time Spent Outdoors – Safely
Sedentary lifestyles are becoming more and more common among children and too much indoor time is devastating to their eyes. According to Reuters Health, kids who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be near-sighted. Ideally, parents should aim to have their kids spend about 15 hours a week outside.
While outside, protect your child’s eyes from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Well-fitting, comfortable sunglasses will protect the eyes against damage to the cells. This damage can cause common eye conditions. Infants will benefit from a brimmed sun hat or a sun visor.
7 – Encourage Healthy Dietary Habits
Eating vegetables and fruits that are high in lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to protect eyes from free radical damage. These nutrients can be found in foods such as leafy greens, egg yolks, corn, orange peppers, kiwi, and grapes. Eating fatty fish like salmon and tuna is also beneficial to the development of the eyes.
Teaching children to enjoy these foods lowers their risk for vision problems later in life. If your family history indicates eye problems, ask your child’s doctor about vitamin supplements to boost their vision health.
8 – Consider Vision Therapy Exercises
Vision therapy, or VT, is like physical therapy for the eyes. It usually involves an individualized vision exercise program created by your optometrist to focus on your child’s specifications. VT includes memory games, focusing tasks, and other eye muscle movement exercises.
Talk to your pediatrician or optometrist about VT if you notice these symptoms in your child:
• Being easily distracted, quickly frustrated, or taking too long to complete homework.
• Trouble writing letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’
• Difficulty reading, spelling, or writing
• Often re-reading a sentence or skipping lines
• Complains of blurriness and/or headaches
Supporting Good Vision Health
Dr. Alzein recommends simple games and toys to help improve and stimulate your child’s vision; puzzles, finger paints, and other hand-eye coordination tools.
“Make sure you are setting a positive example for your child by having your eyes examined annually by your physician or an optometrist,” says Dr. Alzein. “That’s a strong way to help ensure a lifetime of healthy eyes for you and your family.”