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Protecting your child’s eyesight in the digital age

Protecting your child’s eyesight in the digital age - Great Eastern Life Malaysia

With screens being basically everywhere today due to online classes, homework, entertainment and more – protecting your child’s eyesight is important. In this article, let’s learn about the leading causes of eye problems in children and the steps to protect your child’s eyesight.

Why are children's eye problems on the rise? 

As children’s eyes are still developing, prolonged screen exposure will cause more harm than good, potentially resulting in problems such as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain1, myopia (near-sightedness)2, and even potential sleep disruptions due to excessive blue light exposure3. This is why parents need to practise early detection to ensure their eyes are protected.

What are the leading causes of childhood vision issues and blindness? 

It's important to understand that the digital age is not the sole cause as everyone lives a different lifestyle. Here are the three leading causes of childhood vision issues globally5:

Cause #1: Uncorrected Refractive Errors 

This is the most common cause, leading to nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or flaws in the curvature of the eye’s cornea (astigmatism). Fortunately, these issues can be easily addressed with eyeglasses.

Cause #2: Congenital Conditions 

The next leading cause is vision conditions that some children are born with6, which include:

  • Congenital cataracts: A clouding of the lens, impairing the passage of light and affecting vision)
  • Glaucoma: A group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, often due to increased pressure within the eye
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP): Where abnormal blood vessel growth occurs in the developing retina, potentially leading to vision loss in infants.
  • Genetic eye diseases: Involve specific structures or functions of the eye, usually tied to albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, and Leber congenital amaurosis.

Cause #3: Other Causes such as Nutritional Deficiencies, Infections & Injuries 

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly Vitamin A deficiency7,8, can hinder development and function. Eye infections like conjunctivitis can also cause temporary or permanent vision loss, while accidental injuries pose another risk. Measles is also another possible cause of childhood vision loss as the virus has been known to affect the eyes in many ways, ranging from conjunctivitis and corneal scarring to permanent blindness.9

What can you do to protect your child’s eyesight? 

Now that we've explored the various causes of childhood vision issues – including those linked to digital exposure and other external factors – let's shift our focus to figuring out how to safeguard our children’s eyesight.

Whether it’s ways on how to prevent digital eye strain or steps you can take to combat the eye fatigue they’re experiencing, these five recommendations from experts can give you an idea of how to protect your child’s eyesight:

#1 - Limit Screen Time 

We understand that managing screen time can be tough. However, it is essential to ensure that your child won’t be combatting eye fatigue from the amount of screen time they’re getting. So how can you avoid this?

Excessive screen time has been found to cause dry eye syndrome in children.11 Experts emphasise the importance of setting age-appropriate screen time limits and reducing reliance on screens for your child's eye health. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time for children aged 3–4 and advises against any screen use for younger children11.

To facilitate this, encourage alternative activities such as outdoor play and reading physical materials like books and newspapers. You may even consider establishing screen-free zones at home, such as the bedroom.

#2 – Promote Healthy Screen Habits

How do you prevent digital eye strain and avoid computer vision syndrome? When your child engages with screens, reinforce the importance of healthy screen habits12. Encourage them to adjust the viewing distance to at least 20 cm or farther away.

Pro tip: an easy way to measure this is using the ‘elbow rule,’ ensuring the distance between your child and the screen is at least one elbow-to-wrist distance away.

If you are setting up a screen for your child, ensure that you position the screen appropriately. Placing screens slightly below your child's eye level can help reduce eye strain and the risk of developing dry eye syndrome by minimising the need to open their eyes wide, which can lead to excessive drying.9 Combine this practice with the 20/20 rule, where your child takes a 20-second break for every 20 minutes of screen time.

#3 – Conduct Regular Eye Exams 

Experts have advised that your child should get a comprehensive eye exam between the ages of 3 and 5, with vision screenings conducted at ages 6 months, 1 year and 3 years.

Not sure where to start? Our advice is to reach out to experts you can trust, such as your family doctor or optician for their input.

#4 – Promote a Healthy Lifestyle 

Experts have long championed the relationship between maintaining a good diet and enhancing eye health7. By practising this, you are helping your child’s vision stay healthy.

Supporting your child's vision involves adhering to a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet. It revolves around embracing a diet rich in fruits, leafy green vegetables, and essential nutrients that foster eye health, including spinach, salmon, eggs, and citrus fruits.15,16 It’s also important to encourage your child to stay hydrated at all times to reduce the likelihood of dry eye syndrome.17,18 We also recommend integrating this dietary approach with sufficient sleep and regular physical exercise.

And last but not least, do keep your children’s vaccinations up to date. Certain medical illnesses such as measles which can cause blindness are preventable with the help of vaccines.19

#5– Open Communication 

As mentioned earlier in this article, a child's difficulty in properly communicating or recognising vision issues can make early detection challenging.

Take a proactive approach by educating your child about the importance of eye health and encourage them to share any discomfort they may experience with their vision. This fosters a comfortable environment for communication, enabling timely assessment and action if needed.

BONUS TIP – Lead by Example 

Children tend to follow the example set by their parents! A powerful method to instil healthy screen habits and reduce dependency is by serving as a positive role model for them to imitate.

So, mummy and daddy, this implies adopting practices such as maintaining a healthy viewing distance, adhering to the 20/20 rule, embracing a healthy diet and lifestyle, and reducing screen time at home!

Now that you know the steps to prioritise your child's eye health, consider extending that commitment to shield them from life's everyday challenges. Plans like Great Eastern Life's SmartProtect Junior offer assurance, ensuring your child's overall well-being is safeguarded at every twist and turn!

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