Lockdown has had many affects on all parts of our lives. From physical and mental changes, in adults and in children. One thing I am seeing daily, is how our eyesight has become a big part of those changes.
How the outdoors can protect your child’s eyesight.
During our time spent cooped up indoors, screens have become part of the daily routine. Children need them for school work, adults need them for their jobs and they now play a massive part in down time and hobbies for everybody.
Now, we all know that screen time needs be closely monitored in children, for things like attention span, behaviour and appropriate age related games. But have you considered what it’s doing for their eyesight? And how can the outdoors protect your child’s eyesight?
How Do We Become Myopic?
As children grow, their eyes are growing too. Children can be born with a prescription for glasses or they can grow to have one depending on environmental factors. Genetics play a part too; so those with myopic parents, run the risk of becoming short sighted themselves.
Short sighted prescriptions are now being given out daily* because of the increased amount of screen use. These myopic changes are because smartphones are being held at a distance of 20cm, rather than the recommended 45-50cm. This close distance has been said to boost the risk of myopia up to 8 times, especially if both parents are myopic too. With all this concentrated use, children are growing to only focus on short distances. And with this, comes the need for glasses for far away.
So How Does The Outdoors Help Our Eyesight?
Children need to take breaks from all of their screen devices. They need to move away from fluorescent lighting. This also increases the risk of myopia; which is increased tenfold with the lighting from smart devices. Natural light
Sunlight, although harmful in some ways, is also very beneficial in others.
Vitamin D does wonders for boosting melatonin- our little sleep regulator. I guarantee if your child has been running free in the fresh air, they are more likely to fall asleep quicker and sleep better than if they’ve been inside all day.
Photosensitive cells in the eye allow sunlight to be absorbed and stimulates the pituitary and hypothalamus regions of the brain. Sunlight helps regulate hormones, reaction times and behaviours.
Outdoors, sunlight provides the complete spectrum of light wavelengths, whereas indoors, white, fluorescent lights provide a high proportion of blue light. Blue light in high quantities is proving to be harmful to the eyes’ photo receptive cells. This can, in the future, cause a higher chance of developing eye conditions like AMD (macular degeneration).
Is Blue Light Bad or Good?
Due to sunlight’s short wavelengths, it reduces the eye length through retinal dopamine release, which lowers the chance of a short sighted prescription. Blue light via natural light, will help the growth of the eye axis and will also reduce the outcome of astigmatism in developing children.
Studies on children and their chance of myopic progression, shows that they are more likely to become myopic with increased near tasks and screen reading time. Outdoor activities helped reduce this correlation, although the amount of time spent on devices isn’t a factor where eyesight is concerned.
Blue light absorption via screens at night, is much worse than the effects in the day time. It is therefore important that children aren’t on devices before bed times, in order for their circadian rhythms to function normally.
I have worked in optics for 15 years and never before have I seen so many children needing glasses than in 2020. This has got to be related to how much screen use children have had to turn to, due to online learning and school closures.
When To Take Breaks From Screens?
If you are schooling from home, or have a teen who is online learning, here are my suggestions for breaks and screen time.
I recommend every half an hour or so, a short 5-10 minute break to give the eyes a rest and to keep the body moving. Move away from the screen and walk around/stretch a little.
At lunch breaks, go outside and walk/play. Even if it’s raining. The kids will feel so much better for a burst of fresh air.
Set a limit for screen use before bed time. No screens for at least an hour before will help the sleep cycle, and bed time will easier for everybody! This has further benefits as it encourages family time, conversation and winding down for the evening.
How To Protect My Child’s Eyesight?
- If your child already wears glasses, there are specialist lenses available that can reduce the chance of them becoming more short sighted. It is important that if children wear glasses for far away already, that they take them off for near sighted tasks. This will slow down the rate of the prescription changing.
- There are spectacle lenses called anti-fatigue, which act as a subtle varifocal, and account for focusing at near and far distances. They must only be prescribed by an optician and dispensed properly.
- Contact lenses are more than suitable for children, if they are handled correctly, and there are lenses out there that can help with the progression of myopia. The lenses I am familiar with are called MiSight.
- When outdoors in very bright sunlight, please consider using sunglasses with UV protection. You can also get a clear UV-block coating on any prescription lenses which protects your eyes in all weathers.
- I absolutely recommend polarised lenses which are better than a standard tint. They help with glare from snow, water and winter sun. Molly wears Julbo sunglasses as she doesn’t wear prescription glasses, and these are fantastic for smaller children.
For me, it’s all about balance. Screens are a part of our life now, whether I like it or not! I have had to come to terms with this over the past year. But the outdoors are also so much more beneficial, in ways we probably don’t even think about. Especially when it comes to our children’s eyesight. I encourage you all to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, and reap all the benefits it sows.
*My own optical experience accounts for a lot of this piece, but I have cited a few sources of information below. I am a manager of an independent opticians and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Just to touch on my boys’ glasses. My eldest was born with an eye defect, has had numerous operations and has little to no vision in one eye. Because he does so much reading, his good eye has picked up the slack and has become myopic!
My middle child has slight prescription in one eye, as a common lazy eye, but this is improving with age. He will more than likely grow out of it in a few years, especially as he spends so much time outdoors!
If you have any questions, tips or recommendations, they are always welcome 🙂
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