Vision is a real obsession of mine. Between hubby and me, the boys have the hereditary risk of developing hyperopia or myopia. Early detection is important because children suffering from sensory impairment – especially vision and hearing – can have learning difficulties in school.
Since all children start off long-sighted which eventually corrects itself as they get older, it isn’t necessary to test the severity of your child’s long-sightedness unless you suspect a real problem. What’s a real problem? When your child’s hyperopia is significant enough that it causes symptoms like headaches, rubbing eyes, and disinterest in near-sighted activities like reading. According to the eye specialist, the general rule of thumb is anything below a score of +1.50 does not require correction.
An optometrist can determine the degree of hyperopia (also referred to as hypermetropia) with a simple eye chart test but it doesn’t necessarily give a true reading of the degree of hyperopia because we can compensate by using our eye muscles to focus. To relax the eyes so no compensation occurs, the eye specialist will prescribe some eye drops (Cyclopentolate) to be applied a couple of hours before testing so a more accurate measure of hyperopia can be obtained. Unfortunately, the drops sting and it can be a very unpleasant experience for young children.
After our traumatic experience of applying eye drops for G1, who was so distressed by the end of it that he wouldn’t cooperate for the eye test anyway, we decided to adopt the wait and watch approach for G2.
Some time back, I took the boys for their annual eye test. Lucky for us, our decision to wait and watch G2’s eyes has paid off – his hyperopia has corrected itself. G1, unfortunately, has developed mild myopia (short-sightedness).
Although genes play a large part in predicting the risk of developing vision problems (a twin study conducted in the UK demonstrated that 86% of the spread of people’s eyesight scores could be explained by genetic factors – BBC), there is still some part that can be environmental. Since we can’t do anything about nature, we can only focus on how we can alter the environment to reduce that risk. As it turns out, many of the beliefs I grew up with about what is good or bad for our eyes are actually wrong as Harvard Medical points out:
Myth: Doing eye exercises will delay the need for glasses.
Fact: Eye exercises will not improve or preserve vision or reduce the need for glasses. Your vision depends on many factors, including the shape of your eye and the health of the eye tissues, none of which can be significantly altered with eye exercises.
Myth: Reading in dim light will worsen your vision.
Fact: Although dim lighting will not adversely affect your eyesight, it will tire your eyes out more quickly. The best way to position a reading light is to have it shine directly onto the page, not over your shoulder. A desk lamp with an opaque shade pointing directly at the reading material is the best possible arrangement. A light that shines over your shoulder will cause a glare, making it more difficult to see the reading material.
Myth: Eating carrots is good for the eyes.
Fact: There is some truth in this one. Carrots, which contain vitamin A, are one of several vegetables that are good for the eyes. But fresh fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, which contain more antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, are even better. Antioxidant vitamins may help protect the eyes against cataract and age-related macular degeneration. But eating any vegetables or supplements containing these vitamins or substances will not prevent or correct basic vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness.
Myth: It’s best not to wear glasses all the time. Taking a break from glasses or contact lenses allows your eyes to rest.
Fact: If you need glasses for distance or reading, use them. Attempting to read without reading glasses will simply strain your eyes and tire them out. Using your glasses won’t worsen your vision or lead to any eye disease.
Myth: Staring at a computer screen all day is bad for the eyes.
Fact: Although using a computer will not harm your eyes, staring at a computer screen all day will contribute to eyestrain or tired eyes. Adjust lighting so that it does not create a glare or harsh reflection on the screen. Also, when you’re working on a computer or doing other close work such as reading or needlepoint, it’s a good idea to rest your eyes briefly every hour or so to lessen eye fatigue. Finally, people who stare at a computer screen for long periods tend not to blink as often as usual, which can cause the eyes to feel dry and uncomfortable. Make a conscious effort to blink regularly so that the eyes stay well lubricated and do not dry out.
What Does Help?
At this point, the only environmental factor that can help reduce the risk of developing myopia is exposure to sunlight. In other words, we need to get our kids outdoors and looking at things in natural sunlight.
The Sydney Myopia Study followed more than 1,700 six and twelve year olds living in Australia and found that the more time the children spent playing outdoors, the less likely they were to have short-sightedness. A systematic review of studies including those from Australia and the United States found a protective effect overall of spending some time outdoors, particularly in East Asian populations.
…the benefits of being outdoors are less about looking into the distance, and more about the effect that daylight has on your depth of field and the ability to focus clearly. – BBC
So as long as the children are outdoors, it doesn’t really matter what they do. They could be reading or playing sport and the effect will be the same for their eyes. The important point is that they need to be in natural sunlight.
Now for the million dollar question – how much time outdoors? According to an article in the Washington Post – 14 hours a week should do it.