August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety month
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety month. August was selected since families all over the country are preparing to send their children and teens back-to-school.
School places intense demands on a child’s vision due to all the reading, math, computer use, art projects, and playing sports. Vision greatly impacts a child’s ability to learn the foundation skills such as reading, mathematics, and hand-eye coordination.
We wanted to take this opportunity to raise awareness of a few factors that affect a child’s lifelong vision. Early diagnosis and treatment of vision impairments help a child excel at school. Even more importantly, it sets the scene for a lifetime of healthy vision.
How to Help Ensure Children’s Eye Health and Safety
Practice Eye Safety at Home
Be aware of any hazards that may put a child’s eyes at risk. Some examples include detergent pods, cleaning supplies, and other household chemicals. Keep these items out of reach of young children and educate older children about the risks.
In addition, follow the following guidelines:
- Be mindful of the age recommendations on toys and only choose age appropriate items. Often these warnings exist to protect small children from injury. Avoid toys that project sharp objects like darts and arrows. Look for toys marked with “ASTM”, since that means the toy met safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
- Supervise children when they use small craft, home, and office supplies like rubber bands, paper clips, scissors, pens and pencils, bungee cords, knitting needles, etc.
- When traveling in a car, keep young children are properly secured in baby carriers or child safety seats. Limit children under 12 to the backseat. Don’t store loose items on the floor, instead, keep them in the trunk so they don’t become projectiles during an accident.
- Do not allow children to get too close to fireworks like bottle rockets and other explosives.
- Be wary of dog bites, when children younger than four get bitten by dogs nearly 15% of all incidents involve eye injuries.
- Have the child wear protective eyewear made from polycarbonate lenses during paintball and sports involving contact or eye risks.
Spend Time Outside for Healthy Eye Development
Recent research indicates that time spent outside during daylight influences eye development.
According to research, nearsightedness is more common today than it was in the 1970s. Recent research supports the theory that children who spend more time outside are less likely to develop nearsightedness.
- A 2011 study found that nearsighted children typically spent an average of 3.7 hours less outside during daylight hours. The researchers attempted to examine whether the children who spent more time inside were playing more video games, reading, or using computers more than the children who were farsighted and or had normal vision. They found no such connection.
- Another study found in areas where children were required to spend their recess outside had fewer incidents of nearsightedness than schools that allowed children to spend recess inside.
- A Danish study found that children’s eyes grow at different rates depending on the child’s exposure to daylight. As you may know, due to Denmark’s northern location the summer season offers long daylight hours while during the winter there are much fewer hours of daylight. During the winter, children’s eyes grew in length faster than during the summer. Nearsighted eyes tend to be longer from front to back than eyes with normal vision.
Researchers don’t know why time outside impacts eye development. Some believe it has to do with exposure to natural light, but they need to conduct more research before they can state that as a fact. To take full advantage of the benefits of daylight, try these tips:
- Remember that UV light exposure damages the eyes and skin. Protect eyes with UV-shielding sunglasses and protect the skin with broad-spectrum sunscreen.
- Have your child wear eye protection when engaging in contact sports and sports that involve flying objects or debris. Some sports goggles also offer UV protection.
- It isn’t clear whether the benefit comes from physical activity or time simply spent outside. Since physical activity is healthy, cover your basis by encouraging your child to enjoy outdoor play or their favorite sports.
Keep Up on Regular Eye Screenings
Since children’s eyes change quickly, they need frequent eye exams. Keep in mind the guidelines are general, your child’s eye doctor or pediatrician may recommend a different schedule depending on the child’s vision and eye health.
It is recommended that all children receive eye screenings on the following schedule:
- As a newborn
- As an infant between 6 months and a year
- Preschool age, between age 3 and 3 and a half
- When starting school
- When experiencing a change in vision or a possible vision problem
The routine exams at different stages of childhood are age-appropriate and usually different than an annual adult eye exam. A pediatrician, family physician, nurse or another trained health professional may perform a child’s exam during regular checkups. If that professional notices a vision problem, they refer the child to an ophthalmologist or other eye care professional.
Be sure to share information about the child’s family eye health history with your pediatrician and other healthcare professionals.
Watch for Signs of Vision or Eye Health Problems
As children grow, their eyes develop. Unfortunately, small children don’t know whether their vision is normal because it usually seems normal to them. They rely on parents, teachers, and other adults to observe their interaction with the world and to watch for warning signs.
Symptoms to watch for include:
- Complaints of eyestrain
- Unusual behavior while reading such as squinting, holding the book too close to the face, losing their place while reading, etc.
- White or grayish coloring in the pupil
- An eye that turns in or out
- Eyes that seem to have trouble tracking or synching together
- Abnormal appearance in photographs. An unobstructed, healthy retina often appears red in photographs. The dreaded “red eye” is actually a good sign. Check with your child’s doctor if you see a white, yellow or black reflection in one or both eyes rather than the usual red reflection.
- A short attention span is sometimes a symptom of vision concerns especially if it happens during visually intensive activities like reading, working on art projects, or playing sports.
Please keep in mind that most of these symptoms have multiple potential causes including some not related to eye health. However, when it comes to developing eyes it is better safe than sorry. Discuss any symptoms or unusual behavior with your child’s doctor or nurse.
Next Steps for Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month and Beyond
We hope that your family enjoys healthy vision during children’s eye health and safety month and beyond. As always, regular eye screening exams are essential to a lifetime of eye health. If you are looking for an eye care professional in Charlotte, feel free to contact us for an appointment.