Sayyida Nassimizadeh is an Optometrist for Eye Opticians, an independent practice in the West Midlands. She’s here today to provide us parents with a few tips as to how to protect your children’s eyes especially given the increase in screen time!
We’ve seen a huge rise in social-media-personal-trainers, all providing methods on how to eat healthy and exercise correctly in order to improve your lifestyle. While its ‘better late than never’, we need to understand that a lot of the risks in developing certain diseases can in fact begin from our childhood. Therefore, it is crucial we educate ourselves and in particular, the younger generation on the ways to protect their eyes!
1. UV Damage
With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer, we all know the impact of UV damage on our skin1. According to Cancer Research UK, 86% of melanoma skin cancers are preventable2. A study from 2015 found indications of up to 80% of lifetime UV exposure occurs before the age of 20, due to outdoor recreational habits of children with little or no UV protection3. Thus, if we ensured our children are correctly protected, we can reduce their amount of UV exposure, in turn reducing their risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime.
Furthermore, due to gradual ozone depletion and ozone holes, there are increased UV rays entering the atmosphere and so more of a reason to be proactive in protecting children.
The most common form of UV protection is sunscreen for our skin. But what about our eyes? Firstly, and obviously, sunglasses! Invest in a good pair of sunglasses for your child, with specific UVA and UVB protection. As well that, throw on a hat to protect the surrounding area around their eyes, as rays will bounce off surfaces and can enter the eye from all angles. So, lather up the kids with sunscreen and shades – ready to take on the sun in style!
2. Regular Breaks
Particularly during lockdown, our screen time has increased, with the New York Post claiming a 500% increase in usage amongst children, spending over 6 hours a day4. Given that remote learning may be a legitimate reason, majority of the increase can also be attributed to the usage of YouTube, Netflix and TikTok.
Taking regular breaks every 20-30 minutes is highly recommended to relieve the strain on eyes while concentrating on digital devices. In addition to this, practising the 20-20-20 rule will be of added benefit:
Every 20 minutes
Look 20 feet away
For 20 seconds
So how much screen time is too much? Although there is no recommended time given for children, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised children between the ages of 2 and 5 should not spend more than an hour of sedentary screen time in 24 hours, and zero hours for those below the age of 25. The take home message here is – limit the screen time for your child to what you deem acceptable, as well as implementing regular breaks.
As we know, diet plays a key role in preventing the development of diseases later on in life. Instilling a healthy diet for our children from a young age will ensure good bodily function and strong immune responses. For our eyes particularly, there are specific foods which will provide the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to maintain strong defence mechanisms and enhance ocular function. These include;
Vegetables: Kale, spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers and tomatoes.
Fruits: Grape, Papaya, peaches, strawberries, oranges and other citrus fruits.
Fish: Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring
Nuts & Seeds: Walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, flaxseed and sunflower seeds.
Check out Jamie Oliver and other food bloggers such as Halal Girl About Town for healthy options for kids!
4. Inside Vs Outside
Studies have shown that increasing outdoor activities will prevent the development of short-sightedness (myopia) in children6. Therefore, promoting outdoor activities will not only improve physical fitness and hand eye coordination, but prevent your children needing glasses! Be sure to avoid the hottest periods of the day (between 10am and 4pm) where the sun’s rays are most damaging, and always wear SPF and sunglasses!
5. Eye Protection
If your child is heavily involved in sports, it may be an idea to discuss eye protection. 30% of ocular injuries among children younger than 16 are sports related7 and up to 90% of sports related injuries are preventable by using suitable eye protection8. Depending on the type of injury, it can be sight-threatening! There are many forms of eye protection on the market now – speak to your Optometrist to discuss the best options for your sport.
6. Regular Check-ups
Good vision is essential for your child’s development, physically, mentally, and academically. Start them off young by visiting your Optometrist; firstly, to remove any fear of the unknown they may develop as they get older, but also to ensure visual development and function is normal for their age.
The AOP (Association of Optometrists) recommends a child’s first eye test should be ‘around the age of 3’. Vision screening is carried out by most primary schools in the UK, however if this is not done, be sure to book your child in to see us – even if they are not having any problems! The earlier any ocular problem is detected, the earlier suitable treatment can begin, and the better the outcome!
So, here are a few ways to keep your children’s eyes healthy throughout the year; beware though – it may mean they can spot the stash of goodies you’ve kept hiding at the top of the pantry!!!
If you would like any more information about yours or your children’s eyes, you can contact the Eye Opticians practice here.
- The British Skin Foundation. Are you at risk of skin cancer? [Available from: https://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/are-you-at-risk-of-skin-cancer]
- Cancer Research UK. Melanoma skin cancer risk. [Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer/risk-factors#heading-Five]
- Amaro-Ortiz A, Yan B, D’Orazio JA. Ultraviolet radiation, aging and the skin: prevention of damage by topical cAMP manipulation. Molecules. 2014;19(5):6202-6219. Published 2014 May 15. doi:10.3390/molecules19056202
- New York Post. Screen time for kids explodes during coronavirus crisis, study says. [Available from: https://nypost.com/2020/04/23/screen-time-for-kids-explodes-during-coronavirus-crisis-study/]
- World Health Organisation. Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaivour and sleep. [Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/325147/WHO-NMH-PND-2019.4-eng.pdf]
- Jin, J., Hua, W., Jiang, X. et al. Effect of outdoor activity on myopia onset and progression in school-aged children in northeast china: the sujiatun eye care study.BMC Ophthalmol 15, 73 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12886-015-0052-9
- Youn J, Sallis RE, Smith G, Jones K. Ocular injury rates in college sports. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40(3):428-432. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31815e7263
- Mishra A, Verma AK. Sports related ocular injuries. Med J Armed Forces India. 2012;68(3):260-266. doi:10.1016/j.mjafi.2011.12.004