We are so often bombarded with the Dos and Don’ts when it comes to caring for our children. Ensuring they are healthy and happy is arguably the most important role of the parent. Here are a few simple ways that you can help keep your child’s eyes and sight healthy:
1. Try to minimise screen time
Screens are a fact of life for both children and adults - for work, education and leisure. Although there is no hard evidence that screen time adversely affects children’s eyesight, it is important to exercise common sense with its use. The key to screen exposure in children is to set time limits, ensure age-appropriate content is being viewed, and balance it with other activities. There is no golden rule as to exactly how much screen time is too much. As a general rule, children should be spending most of their time away from screens, and only a small portion of their time in front of screens.
2. Spend plenty of outdoor time
There are well-known health benefits of time spent outdoors, such as Vitamin D exposure and physical exercise. We are also now learning about the benefits of sun exposure and outdoor time on the visual system. Recent studies have shown a link between sun exposure and a decrease in the prevalence of myopia (short-sightedness). We advise at least one hour of outdoor play each day.
3. Be sun smart
Remember that, along with protecting our skin, we need to protect our eyes from the harmful rays of the sun. As well as causing skin cancers, UV rays can cause growths on the surface of the eyes called pterygiums. UV exposure also plays a role in the development of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration in later life. The best way to protect your child’s eyes from the sun is to ensure they wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. There are a number of companies that now design children’s sunglasses in a range of colours and designs to suit every child, and there are even styles available for babies from as young as six months of age. Getting a child used to wear a hat and sunglasses early on in life will make it easier for them to tolerate these through those tricky toddler years and into later childhood.
4. Avoid eye injuries
Unfortunately, we see many preventable eye injuries in children each year. Most serious childhood eye injuries are caused by sharp implements such as pens, pencils, utensils, sticks, scissors and metal objects, and the most likely place for an eye injury to occur is at home. The best way to minimise the risk of eye injury is through supervision of your child in and around the home. Other tips for preventing eye injuries at home include removing objects that may cause harm (or placing them out of the child’s reach, or in a locked cupboard), cutting any trimmed tree branches right back to the tree trunk, allowing children to only observe an adult mowing the lawn from inside the house, ensuring that furniture has rounded edges, and not allowing children to play with laser pointers. Also, be careful around spring time when Magpies are nesting and become territorial as they may swoop. Wearing a hat and sunglasses will even protect the eyes from injuries associated with swooping magpies.
5. Have a healthy, balanced diet
We all know that maintaining a healthy diet has a positive impact on our general health. The foundations of a healthy diet and lifestyle are set in childhood, and are also modelled on the parent’s behaviours. Offering a varied diet including a range of vegetables and fish has been shown to reduce the impact and incidence of eye disease such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts in later life. As for getting the children to actually eat those vegetables - that’s another battle entirely!
6. Get to know your eye health professional
If you are concerned about anything to do with your child’s eyes or eyesight, seek help from an eye health professional. It is never too early to have your child’s eyes assessed, and it is important that a child has their eyesight checked prior to starting school. In some states, such as NSW, there is a preschool vision screening program called StEPS which offers a vision assessment to all four-year-olds at preschool. If your child does not have access to such a program, ask your GP to assess their vision around the age of four years old. If you have any concerns about your child’s eyes or vision, do not hesitate to ask your GP for a referral to an eye health professional. View the StEPS article in RANCZO's magazine Eye2Eye for more information about the StEPS initiative.
Prof Frank Martin
Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists
Sarita Beukes, MAOB
Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists
For more information about the authors, please visit http://sosdoctors.com.au/
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