Updated: September 2020
With September marking the time children get back to school, or participate online, it is time to have their annual eye exam. Good vision plays a significant role in your child’s ability to learn and grow. As a result, I’ve put together this useful list of things to consider and look for, as well as habits to develop, that will ultimately have a positive effect on your child, their vision, and therefore, their learning.
Caring For Your Child’s Eyes In The Age Of Online Learning
This year has brought many new changes and transformations to our everyday lives. Now, with children returning back to school, we have seen the introduction of online learning for primary and secondary students – which is gaining more and more support and interest among parents and students. As of September 12, 2020, the Peel Region District School Board reported that over 64,000 students enrolled online, and that number has seen consistent increases. This is an unparalleled time, where screen usage among children will be even higher. Therefore, it is more important now than ever to consider how to exercise healthy habits to protect vision from the negative effects of excessive screen usage.
Limit Screen Time (when possible)
Excessive screen time can lead to various symptoms including: dry eye, fluctuating vision, headaches, insomnia and tired eyes. Activities that are often enjoyed by children – such as playing video games or socializing online – can be particularly harmful, as they are often done using great focusing effort and concentration for an extended time. This can cause focusing problems, such as spasm. This makes changing our focus to distance objects after extended near viewing tasks difficult, resulting in blurred vision, headaches in more severe cases, and possibly double vision in extreme cases. In addition, prolonged screen time can cause eye irritation from a lack of blinking, which leads to surface dryness as a result of the poor tear distribution. Typically, when we read or look at a screen, our blink rate reduces by up to 60%.
Regulate Device Usage Before Bedtime
Beyond limiting the amount of time your child spends behind a screen, it’s equally important to regulate device usage before bedtime. It is known that using electronic devices before going to bed has negative effects on sleep, including one’s ability to fall asleep and to obtain quality sleep. This is primarily due to the high energy artificial blue light that’s emitted by electronic devices. Blue light exposure helps regulate the production of melatonin; a hormone that affects our circadian rhythm or sleep patterns. It’s important to develop positive routines with your child, such as committing to abstain from using electronic devices at least one hour before going to sleep. In cases where compliance is an issue, removing electronic devices from your child’s bedroom may be warranted.
Nurture Good Device Habits
With the introduction of online learning, it’s increasingly more difficult to prevent children from spending excessive time behind a screen. Therefore, it’s highly important to teach your child good habits for when they’re using screens.
The best habit to reduce eyestrain (a.k.a. asthenopia) is known as the 20-20-20 rule. This habit involves looking away from device screens every 20 minutes, by looking at something about 20 feet away, for 20 about seconds.
Trying to spot vision problems?
Although it’s best advised to have an optometrist professionally evaluate your child’s vision by undergoing regular eye exams, there are some signs that may suggest your child has issues with their vision. One of the biggest ones is related to reading. If your child tends to lose their place while reading, or if they rely on using a finger to read, this may suggest they’re having issues of focus or convergence.
Another possible sign of a potential vision issue is related to head tilting. Your child tilting their head to the side could be a sign of them experiencing double vision. Tilting the head can help reduce the symptom of double vision (a.k.a. diplopia). In other cases, if your child is looking side to side, it could be a sign of astigmatism, another potential cause of diplopia.
Eye rubbing and experiencing light sensitivity can be other signs of potential vision issues. Children experiencing light sensitivity will often avoid going outside and report that the sun hurts their eyes, or close one of their eyes when out in the sun. Exposure to natural light is important as a lack of outdoor activity has been correlated to developing myopia.
These are just general observable patterns that may suggest that your child may be experiencing a vision problem, besides the obvious squinting. Nevertheless, you should restrain from making any firm assumptions and instead seek a comprehensive eye and vision assessment by an optometrist.
Have Yearly Eye Exams with An Eye Care Professional
As discussed, it’s much more advised to get a professional assessment from an optometrist rather than coming to conclusions simply based on behaviors you’ve observed in your child. Be proactive about your child’s eye health and vision by scheduling routine yearly exams. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommend infants get their first exam by age 6 months, then again at the age of 3. School age children should undergo eye exams annually. It should be noted that school screenings are meant to identify those children most-at-risk, and do not provide any assessment of the overall health of your child’s eyes.
Other Aspects To Nurturing Good Vision and Eye Health
Encouraging Strong Visual Development
Generally, toys and tasks that improve motor and eye-hand coordination skills have a positive effect on children’s vision. Some of these toys include building or linking blocks, puzzles, drawing tools, finger paints, and toys with high visual contrast. The added benefit of these activities is that they don’t involve electronic devices, which can provide further relief from the negative effects caused by screen exposure.
Providing your child with proper meals and nutrition has a multitude of effects on their learning and development – but it can also positively affect eye health. Foods with the most positive effect on vision are ones that are rich in key antioxidants and nutrients (e.g. vitamins A,C, and E, zinc, omega-3 and lutein). Nurturing proper eating habits can go a long way in the entirety of your child’s life, as a poor diet can affect weight, heart health, and lead to Type 2 diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, among others.
Myopia, or nearsightedness as its most commonly known, is a condition that can have a significant impact on your child and their quality of life now and in the future. The prevalence of Myopia is also on the rise, with projections suggesting that by 2050, half the world’s population, or 5 billion people, will be myopic.
The recommended course of action to minimize the negative effects and the natural progression of myopia is to begin with a comprehensive eye exam with an eye care professional. This will provide a proper diagnosis and will allow your eye care professional to identify the best treatment plan for your child.
Myopia Control With MiSight and MiyoSmart
MiSight lens, developed by CooperVision, is a revolution in helping to treat the progression of myopia. It is the first successful daily disposable contact lens aimed at reducing myopia progression, and also well-tolerated in children.
Another treatment option, in place of daily disposable contact lenses, are D.I.M.S. Spectacle Lenses. This spectacle lens type is made up of a central clear optical zone for correcting the myopia, with an outer band of defocus that acts to control myopia progression. The D.I.M.S. lens design, MiyoSmart, distributed in Canada through select eye care professionals by Hoya has been found to have statistically significant outcomes in curbing myopia progression.
See our Myopia Control page to learn more about myopia and the various therapy options that are available.