(BPT) - Did you know school vision exams can miss up to 75% of children's vision problems such as myopia, or nearsightedness? Even vision tests given by your child's pediatrician are not as comprehensive as an exam by an eye doctor, and can miss crucial early signs of eye disease.
Myopia, a condition where someone has difficulty seeing objects at a distance, has been growing at a rapid rate in children for years — doubling since the 1990s. It is estimated that 50% of the world's population will be myopic by 2050. Myopia dramatically increases a child's risk for serious eye diseases in adulthood, some of which can even lead to blindness. Currently, one in three children are myopic.
In a recent study by the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC), one-third of parents were unfamiliar with myopia, and only 27% took their children to an eye doctor in 2019. Even if your child is not experiencing vision problems, identifying issues early — especially between ages 8-13 — can make a real impact on their future. Prompt treatment of conditions such as myopia may slow the risk of a child's vision getting worse over time.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, heavy reliance on screens for entertainment, communication, work and remote learning has put a strain on everyone's eyes. According to the GMAC survey, 61% of parents said their children's use of video games has increased, and 44% said their children spend four hours or more on electronic devices each day — including television or handheld devices, completing schoolwork on a computer or playing video games. This increased screen time means a greater risk of developing conditions such as myopia.
What can parents do?
If you're concerned about your child's screen time and want to prevent eye problems, here are some actions you can take.
See an eye doctor
An eye doctor can help determine if your child is having vision problems or showing early signs of eye disease. Many optometrists today will arrange in-person and/or virtual visits, depending on the circumstances. Contact them ahead of time to learn about their safety protocols for in-person visits. If your child does have myopia, ask your eye doctor about new treatment options beyond traditional eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Limit screen time
As difficult as it is when everyone's social lives, work and study have moved online, try to limit screen time as appropriate for your child's age. Ask your optometrist for recommendations for your child's screen time. It helps to keep electronic devices out of children's bedrooms.
Schedule regular breaks away from devices. Encourage your child to engage in different types of activities during their breaks, including physical activity. The upside? Frequent breaks actually improve focus and productivity when you do go back to work or study.
Take some breaks and get outdoors. Spending more time outside can be healthier for everyone's eyes, as well as their entire bodies. Need to keep children entertained? Create obstacle courses, set up relay races or scavenger hunts to keep kids outdoors longer. Aim to have children spend two hours a day outdoors.
A new social media campaign has recruited gaming and parenting influencers to spread awareness about myopia and finding balance between time on-screen and off. Under the #GameOverMyopia hashtag, gamers and parents have shared messages about myopia on social media. Many of them shared creative ways they brought their kids' favorite video games to life — by recreating aspects of them in their homes or backyards.
"While much of the country has been sheltering in place this year, parents have been doing the best they can, often helping children with schoolwork on digital devices," said Matt Oerding, co-founder and CEO of Treehouse Eyes and GMAC board chairman. "In fact, 67% of the parents we surveyed said their kids are spending more time accessing e-learning tools, and since they're likely using the same devices to chat with friends or play video games, it is all about balance when it comes to screen time."