An Eye on Vision Health: Protecting Children’s Eyesight

We all grew up with parents (or grandparents!) who were concerned about protecting our eyes. While watching television, we often heard: “Don’t sit so close!” or “Why don’t you go outside instead?” Today’s children are immersed even more in a virtual world–especially after moving online for school during the pandemic. Now, more than ever, we ask ourselves, were our parents’ concerns correct? What can we do to help our children preserve their eyes?

Can vision issues be prevented?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent vision impairments or vision loss is to start early.

Frequent checkups are vital for a person’s overall eye health. This is especially the case for children. The CDC shares, “Though people tend to have more vision problems as they get older, children need eye exams to ensure healthy vision, too. But only 39 percent of preschool children have had their vision tested, which is needed to diagnose eye diseases.” Without consistent examinations, their vision would continue to worsen.

What should I look for?
“The first signs of vision loss in a child include squinting, a misaligned eye, abnormal eye movements, chronic tearing, a white instead of a black pupil, constant eye rubbing, or holding reading material too close to the face,” says Dr. Nick Frisard, an ophthalmologist with The Baton Rouge Clinic. Parents should keep these warning signs in mind and consult with their children’s doctors if these symptoms are observed.

When should my child’s vision be checked?
The American Academy for Ophthalmology recommends that children “from one month to four years of age have their ocular health assessed at each routine well-child visit.” Regular assessments at each doctor’s visit should help assess and assuage any concerns

The CDC offers parents a timeline of what ages are best to visit an eye care center or vision specialist:

■ Newborn to three months
■ Six months to one year
■ About three years
■ About five years

When it comes to these checkups, your child has nothing to be afraid about. “Visual screenings are simple noninvasive exams that do not require drops. Recent technological advancements have made automated vision screenings possible through the use of special cameras. These photo screenings are highly effective at detecting eye diseases or the need for glasses, and may be performed at your child’s school or pediatrician’s office,” notes Dr. Frisard.

How can I protect my child’s vision?
The most stressed advice is to get regular eye exams. Staying on top of these routine visits can spare your child a lot of grief. Plenty of complications can be prevented or treated by early detection. “Amblyopia, the most common cause of vision damage in children, develops because one or both eyes do not see clearly or are misaligned. If amblyopia is corrected early, usually before age 11 to 13, it can be reversed and vision restored. Less common childhood eye diseases such as glaucoma cause visual damage that is more difficult to reverse. The primary goal is early detection so that damage can be prevented through medications and surgery,” says Dr. Frisard.

The CDC assures that this is not the only thing parents can do to help their children. You can also make sure your child has a healthy diet. Leafy greens like spinach or kale are excellent for eye health. Also, be sure to know your family’s eye health history. Plenty of eye-related issues stem from genetic predisposition and knowledge is prevention. Finally, sunglasses aren’t only for summer vacations to the beach. Regular wearing of sunglasses that block out 99-100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation from the sun’s rays can help prevent vision damage.

Help your child be easy on their eyes!
What do we do when we’re stressed? We take breaks. The eyes need breaks, too. The CDC promotes the 20-20-20 rule that states that for every 20 minutes focusing on one thing, you should look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.

Dr. Frisard suggests the following for parents to utilize to help reduce eye strain from electronics. The first is to increase the distance between your child’s eyes to the screen by about an arm’s length. This distance helps relax the muscle in the eye that squeezes to view objects up-close. He also encourages parents to reduce the screen’s brightness while using a matte screen filter to reduce glare.

We may not know for sure if every solution our parents had was correct. However, armed with new knowledge, we can now detect, treat, and prevent issues with our children’s vision. 

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29 Jul 2021

By Sarah Batrous

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