Worried too much screen time is ruining your child’s eye health? An optometrist explains how to protect your child’s eye health during the coronavirus lockdown.
By Janine Vali, optometrist
Since the UK went into lockdown on 23 March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, most families have been home schooling, often on an online video platform, playing outside in the garden, and keeping the kids entertained with games, reading, watching and playing.
It is important parents are aware of their children’s eye health, their visual development and how this links to general wellbeing whilst spending most of their time at home.
Whether it’s replacement glasses to ensure your child can continue their learning, sun eyewear protection for the outdoors or an urgent eyecare appointment with an optometrist.
We speak to Janine Vali, regional optometrist lead at Vision Express, about her advice on how to protect your child’s eyesight during lockdown.
Children’s eyesight development
Good eyesight is key to the development of a child, both academically as they soak up the world around them and also for the social interaction with other children and adults alike.
We recommend that every child has an eye test before the age of five years old. Sometimes parents expect that schools offer eye screening, but this is not always the case. So, to ensure your child’s eyes are developing normally you should book an eye test before they start school.
Although if you have any concerns about your child’s eyes you can of course book to see an optometrists earlier who can assess and address any concerns.
Signs your child has an eyesight problem
Parents often ask what to look out for in their children that might indicate a problem, some of these signs are:
- Constantly rubbing the eyes
- Closing one eye or covering one eye whilst reading or watching TV
- Standing too close to the TV or board at school
- Noticing that one eye is turning in towards the nose
- Light sensitivity
- Regular headaches
- Constantly rubbing the eyes or if the eyes are red or itchy
- Difficulty with reading books or squinting to see the board
- A shadow in the pupil that doesn’t go away.
Also, if parents are shortsighted or are aware of a squint or a lazy eye in the family then this should also alert you to book an eye exam.
After the initial test we would normally recommend the child is tested annually to ensure they continue with good visual development and if they are wearing glasses to monitor any changes that may be required.
Children’s eye exams are provided for by the NHS to ensure that all children have access to eyecare.
Does too much screen time affect eyesight?
This is a question often asked by parents.
Increase in screen time is inevitable as we continue to evolve into a digital world, particularly with the current lockdown situation.
It is important not to beat ourselves up about this but remember to encourage regular breaks.
Whilst looking at a screen our blink rate is reduced and this can lead to dry eyes and discomfort, also the constant focusing for a long time can cause eyestrain.
The way to combat this is to adopt the 20:20:20 rule: every 20 minutes have a break for 20 seconds by looking 20 feet away. This allows the eye muscles to relax and the blink rate to regulate so avoiding potential problems.
One other thing to ensure is that the top of screen being used is about 45cm away from their eyes and that the top of the screen is below eye level.
Protecting your child’s eyesight outdoors
Coming into the summer the children will be able to spend increasing time outdoors.
Protecting the eyes from the harmful UVA and UVB rays is very important whilst they are playing. Wearing sunglasses will protect the eyes against potential damage to the cells which could cause common eye conditions that develop in later life, as well as protecting the sensitive skin around the eyes. Ensure the sunglasses have full UV protection and carry the British Standard or CE mark. For infants you can make sure they wear a brimmed sun hat or a sun visor.
The overall message is if you are worried about your child’s eyes, don’t wait, contact an optometrist to arrange either a remote or face to face consultation.