IT’S ALMOST BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIME! ARE YOUR LITTLE ONE’S EYES READY FOR THE NEW YEAR? WITH VIRTUAL LEARNING BECOMING THE NORM, FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN HELP KEEP THEIR EYES HEALTHY DESPITE EXTRA SCREEN TIME, AND WHY AN EYE EXAM IS STILL SO IMPORTANT.
Take Care With Screen
Time Because many schools are adopting virtual learning models for both the short- and long-term, your kid may be spending more time in front of the screen than usual this year — and that could put him or her at increased risk for certain vision problems or eye conditions.
Nearsightedness: If your child is not already nearsighted, doing a lot of “close work” (using a screen or even in a book) can increase their likelihood of developing this condition.
Dry Eye Syndrome: When we stare at a screen all day, our blink rate decreases significantly. The blinking action secretes an oil called meibum (one of the three layers of tear film), which keeps our eyes moist. When we don’t blink as much, our eyes can become overly dry and irritated.
Eye Strain and Fatigue: Excessive screen time can also lead to strain, fatigue, blurry vision, itchy eyes, and headaches. Help minimize any risk to your child’s eyes by doing the following:
- Take frequent screen breaks. Instead of focusing directly on the screen, encourage your child to look around the room every now and then, or take some time to stare out the window (at least 20 seconds is recommended by the American Optometric Association). You can even remind them to blink.
- Position the monitor or screen so it’s about 25 inches away, and also position it so their gaze is slightly downward.
- Adjust the room lighting so that the screen isn’t brighter than the surrounding light. If it is, your child’s eyes will have to work harder.
- Sharpen your child’s vision skills with “traditional” non-screen-based activities, like puzzles, blocks, drawing and painting, and playing catch.
Don’t Forget Their Eye Exam
No matter where your child will be participating in school this year — whether it’s home-based virtual learning or in a traditional classroom — don’t skip the trip to the eye doctor. Getting your child’s eyes checked regularly is absolutely critical to ensure healthy eye development and that they have the visual skills necessary for successful learning.
The WHO Optometric Association recommends children have an eye exam by the time they reach one year old, at least once between 3 and 5 years old, and once a year after first grade until they graduate. Your eye doctor can recommend the best frequency for your child.
Your child should still receive a comprehensive eye exam, whether or not they will receive a vision screening at school or even at their pediatrician’s office. While vision screenings can indicate some vision trouble, they often only test your child’s ability to see things that are far away, such as a classroom whiteboard. And screeners don’t have all the necessary equipment or training to detect many eye health problems in children.
A comprehensive eye examination looks at complete eye health, and includes tests for the following, in addition to an understanding of patient and family health history:
- Visual acuity
- Depth perception
- Color vision
- Peripheral vision
- Refractive errors (like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism)
- Eye focusing, tracking, teaming and other eye movement abilities
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