With schools resuming for the Fall, parents are curious about proper ocular development and the impact of screens on their children's eye health.
When observing your child, be on the lookout for various behaviors such as squinting, closing one eye, excessive blinking, eye rubbing, head tilting, head turning, wondering eye, crossed eyes, poor tracking, difficulty with hand-eye coordination, inability to hold a steady gaze, complaints of headache, light sensitivity, itchy eyes, blurred or double vision.
The following are 9 helpful tips on pediatric eye health, particularly during the age of COVID and with increased digital device usage:
1) The ‘20/20/20’ rule: If possible, take breaks from digital screens. Every 20 minutes, look away at 20 feet distance for 20 seconds.
2) We tend to blink up to 50% less often while staring at screens so be mindful to take frequent, full blinks. Improper blinking or reducing blink rate can contribute to eye strain, eye fatigue, headaches and dry eyes. Not surprisingly,our practice is seeing a rise in dry eye consultations due for excessive screentime use.
3) For eye drops, most preservative-free lubricating drops are safe to take. We commonly recommend: Oasis Tear, Retaine, & Freshkote. Please avoid redness removing drops, as they can cause more harm than good.
4) Consider quality and reputable blue light glasses. there is early evidence to suggest that long-term exposure to blue light may have negative impact on eye health (ie retina) and circadian rhythms. A potential alternative is turning on ‘night mode’ on iPhones, iPad, etc.
5) A healthy, balanced diet is important for proper development. Specifically, a Mediterranean type diet is ideal. For example, consider leafy green vegetables, avocados, asparagus, fish, seeds, nuts, olive oil, & low glycemic index whole fruits like berries, citric fruits and tropical fruits. Skip the fruit juice, as it lacks fiber. Reach for foods high in anti-oxidants levels.
6) High quality Omega-3 supplements are beneficial for cognitive and eye health. They are also a useful anti-inflammatory. Lutein and Zeaxanthin support macular health. Important since blue light may disrupt these precious, macular pigments. Vitamin A benefits night vision and peripheral vision. Vitamin C & E are powerful anti-oxidants.
7) While spending time outdoors, consider glasses with UV protection to avoid sunburn to the ocular surface (ie cornea, conjunctiva, intraocular lens and retina). Never stare directly at the sun, this may cause solar maculopathy.
8) Visual Ergonomics - Screens should be at arm's length, slightly below eye level, both feet firmly planted on the floor, and back straight. Brightness of the screen should match the surrounding environment. When having the option of natural light vs artifical, choose natural light directed from behind the computer user.
9) We are seeing a higher prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) among adults and children, starting at a younger age. Routine annual eye exam are key to catch these patients early and intervene when necessary. There are many treatment options to slow down the progression of myopia. Most recently, MiSight contact lenses were clinically proven and FDA-approved for myopia control/management. MiSight is a single-use daily contact lens that both corrects the child's distance vision while helping to slow the progression of myopia. The patients enrolled in the 3 year study were between the ages of 8-12 with prescriptions between -0.75 to -4.00.
Side note regarding myopia: If both parents are nearsighted, there’s a 1 in 2 chance that their child will need glasses for distance. If one parent is myopic, the child will have a 1 in 3 chance. If neither parent has myopia then the child still has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming a myope.