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Vision and Eye Health 2019

The importance of children’s eye health and the impact of lifestyle

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Meena Ralhan

Optom and Optical Compliance Office

Q&A with Meena Ralhan on the importance of regular eye testing, screen time and nutrition for maintaining good eye health.

What are the signs that a child may need a sight test? Does this vary for different age groups?

All children are entitled to a free eye test on the NHS. Parents who have shortsightedness, any squint or lazy eye history in the family should have their children tested early on, i.e. before five years old.

Opticians have special methods to test children, even if they can’t read letters, and can detect any lazy eyes or squints. Noticing one eye turning in could be a sign and children sitting too close to the TV can indicate shortsightedness. Children rubbing their eyes a lot or scrunching up their faces, squinting, to see far could also indicate shortsightedness, so it’s very important to go to the opticians for the early checks.

A pair of glasses for a short time can help fix the issue while the child’s visual system is still developing, and they then may not need glasses later in life. Children under two years of age with a squint tend to knock or bump into things – or even fall over – and an optician can detect any issues with their vision early on.

If the near muscles are constantly engaged on near devices, the 20-20-20 rule must apply to give the muscles a rest.

Can too much screen time affect children’s eyes and vision?

With modern technology at its peak, children are increasingly spending a proportion of their day using screens. Their daily screen time has increased compared to 10 years ago, whether that be in school or home. Mobile phones, handheld devices and TV screens all add to daily screen time.

Children using handheld devices, such as tablets and mobile phones, should be limited to 20 minutes at a time with a five-minute break after 20 minutes – this is because screen use reduces the blink rate and can contribute to dry eyes and discomfort.

There can also be eyestrain as the focusing power of the eyes is being exerted too much for too long if breaks are not taken. The far muscles can also weaken, which increases the risk of shortsightedness.

If the near muscles are constantly engaged on near devices, the 20-20-20 rule must apply to give the muscles a rest – after 20 minutes, take a 20 second break by looking 20 feet away.

How important is nutrition and diet for eye health?

A varied and healthy balanced diet is key to the wellbeing, healthy growth and development of children. The eyes are no different and need a variety of nutrients to help maintain good eye health.

For eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), dark, leafy green vegetables are known to help prevent it.

Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, lutein, vitamins C and E may help slow down ARMD or cataracts. Foods like salmon or oily fish, nuts and beans and citrus fruits contain the above nutrients.

Sugary, starchy and processed foods can all lead to diabetes, which does affect the eyes and can lead to sight loss.

Vision can be preserved in everyone, regardless of age, by:

  • Having regular eye tests – recommended every two years and every year for certain conditions. The optometrist can detect health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure and, on rare occasions, even brain tumours.
  • Stopping smoking is very important as smoking has been linked to cataracts and ARMD.
  • Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Being aware of your vision in each eye separately – sometimes conditions occur in one eye first. See your opticians straight away if you notice a decrease in one eye.
  • Wearing sunglasses to help prevent against cataracts and ARMD. UV light is damaging to the eyes. Look out for glasses carrying the “CE” Mark and British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013, which ensures that the sunglasses offer a safe level of UV protection.
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