Myopia (or near-sightedness), is one of the most common vision disorders in the world. More than 90% of myopia cases develop in early childhood. The good news is that there are steps parents and children can take to protect a child’s vision from deteriorating. Of all factors that contribute to myopia progression, environmental factors play the most significant role.
Whilst research indicates that our genes are partly responsible for myopia as it tends to run in families (a person with one short-sighted parent has three times the risk of developing myopia or six times the risk if both parents are short-sighted), it is environmental factors that are driving the increase of myopia worldwide, especially in countries where children do not spend much time outside.
We cannot do anything about our genetics, but we can do something about environmental influences which play an important role in the health of a child’s eyes.
Are Screens to Blame?
Screen time is a massive contributor. As technology improves, kids are using their devices more than reading hard copy books. Because it is a passive process, we see kids glued to their screens for extended periods. The majority of Australian children are spending significantly more than the recommended two-hour daily screen-time limit watching television, on computers (including mobile devices) and playing electronic games.
The statistics paint a disturbing picture. At the vulnerable pre-school age of four to five, studies show that children already average more than two hours on a screen each day. By 12 to 13, this increases to more than three to four hours a day.
To put this into perspective, this means that in early adolescence up to 30% of a child’s waking time is spent in front of a screen. A figure that ramps up significantly when a child gets older as their screens become more of a lifeline to their friendship groups. Kids are now spending as much as seven hours per day on a screen. Their eyes have never had to work so hard, with more children than ever developing myopia. We need to help our kids adjust how they use technology, encourage, and empower them to develop healthy device habits.
What are the Symptoms of Myopia (Near-sightedness)?
Screwing up their eyes or squinting to see objects in the distance
Having difficulty seeing the blackboard/whiteboard at school
Sitting close to the television or needing to sit at the front of the classroom.
What Can We Do to Prevent Myopia?
Kids experience digital eyestrain as much as adults. They can experience dry eye, headaches, and blurry vision. These symptoms can be temporary, frequent, or persistent. Whilst screens are an everyday part of life it is important for kids to break up the long periods of time they spend on their screens.
To help restore some life balance and limit the large amount of exposure they have to their screens we recommend applying the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes your child spends looking at a screen, ask them to look at an object in the distance, 20 feet away (or 6 metres away), for 20 seconds. This simple exercise that will give their eyes a much needed break.
Get Kids Outside
Spending more than two hours outdoors each day will significantly help your child reduce the risk of developing myopia. If your kids are outside playing, encourage them to look around and use that full range of vision every day.
Put The Device Down!
Spending too much time indoors and performing a lot of near vision work without a break on a screen plays a substantial role in increasing the risk of developing myopia.
Early Detection Creates Prevention
Early diagnosis and intervention are the keys to slowing the progression of myopia. To do that, book an appointment for your child to have their eyes examined. If they do not have a vision condition, fantastic! If they do, we will work out a management plan to make sure their vision does not get worse.