Aug 5, 2022
Tips to Protecting Children’s Vision for Back to School
As parents and children are gearing up to head back to school this fall, it is the perfect time to think about the importance of your children’s eye health. Healthy vision is critical for children’s development, learning and well being, and it’s important to identify any problems that they may be having with their sight early.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that children have at least one exam before they start school, and then one exam per year afterwards. A pediatrician can complete eye screening for children who are younger than 5 and may refer them to an optometrist or ophthalmologist if a problem is identified.
Common eye problems children can have may include:
- Problems with visual acuity: Visual acuity is a measure of how well a person can focus on an object. The eye doctor can test this by asking the patient to read letters or pictures on an eye chart. Common problems with visual acuity can include far-sightedness, near-sightedness, and astigmatism. If a child is far-sighted, they will have difficulty seeing close objects and this may have detrimental affects on a child’s interest in reading. If they are near-sighted, they will have difficulty seeing objects at a distance such as the board or screen at the front of the classroom. When a child has astigmatism the eye is not able to focus light properly, resulting in blurry vision. Many of these issues can be corrected with eyeglasses.
- Amblyopia: Often referred to as a lazy eye. In this condition, the eyes have difficulty working together and may appear to point in different directions. It is important that this is caught and corrected early, or it may lead to blindness in one eye. Treatments can include glasses, eye drops, eye patches or surgery.
- Strabismus: One of the most common eye problems in children where the eyes are not aligned properly. It is often called “crossed eyes”. If not treated, it can turn into amblyopia and cause more serious problems. Mild cases can be treated with glasses and eye patching, while more extreme cases may require surgery.
A comprehensive eye exam will include tests for all these conditions as well as a review of the child’s overall health and any history of eye problems. There also are several inherited eye conditions that can impact children, and a yearly exam can help with early diagnosis.
In addition to regular eye exams, there are other things you can do to help your child protect their vision and develop healthy vision habits.
1. Watch for signs of a vision problem. Some common signs that your child may be having trouble with their eyes include:
- Squinting or holding objects very close to their face
- Difficulty seeing and identifying distant objects
- Losing their place when reading
- Jerky eye movements
- Tilting their head
- Rubbing their eyes
- Sensitivity to lights
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Having difficulty telling similar colours apart (usually red and green or blue and yellow)
2. Provide babies and toddlers with visual stimuli. Little ones need time to build the ability to focus their vision and coordinate their hand-eye movements. High contrast colours and patterns in books and toys can help engage babies and toddlers. Games like peekaboo can help with eye-hand coordination. As children get a bit older, a simple game of catch is a great way to promote this skill.
3. Promote a balanced diet. The old saying, “eat your carrots to help your vision” has some truth to it! Nutrients including vitamins A, C and E as well as zinc, lutein, and omega 3 fatty acids have all been shown to be beneficial to overall eye health. Providing a wide range of nutrient-rich foods including strawberries, oranges, fish, leafy greens, eggs and nuts can have a beneficial effect on your child’s eyes and overall health.
4. Protect their eyes! Encourage the use of sunglasses for outdoor activities, and safety glasses if they are playing sports or performing science experiments (sunglasses are not enough to provide protection during sports as they can shatter and potentially make the impact worse). Most childhood eye injuries can be prevented with the use of protective goggles made with polycarbonate lenses.
5. Develop good screen hygiene: Screen time has become more common for kids, especially with digital learning. Encourage your kids to follow the 20-20-20 rule which is to look away from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Studies have shown that blue light is not dangerous to the eyes, but it can cause eye strain which may be irritating and cause difficulty focusing. There is some evidence that not spending enough time outside can lead to an increase in nearsightedness.
Instilling proper screen hygiene at a young age can help to lower the risk of near-sightedness and strain. Before children head back to school, book their annual check up to help them achieve their best vision and prevent vision loss.
Eye exams for children are covered by many provincial health plans. Learn more about what is available in your area by contacting a local optometrist or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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