Whether its winter, spring, summer or fall, your eyes are the only set you get. Taking care of them and showing your kids how to take care of them is just as important as showing them how to take care of their teeth, hair and skin.
According to the American Optometric Association, children should first have their eyes checked at 6-months-old. Subsequent vision checks are then recommended at 3 and before beginning kindergarten, or at 5 or 6. Once children are in school the AOA recommends that they should get their eyes checked every two years. If they wear glasses or contacts the recommendation changes to once a year.
- Basic visual skills needed for learning include:
- Near vision
- Distance vision
- Binocularity skills
- Eye movement skills
- Peripheral awareness
- Eye/hand coordination
However in between checks there are a couple of ways parents can help to protect and preserve kids’ eyesight.
Limit screen time
You knew this was coming, right? For children 2 – 5 the AAP recommends that you limit screen time to 1 hour of high-quality programming per day. For 6 and up they recommend a more well-rounded approach to limiting screen time and advise that you balance it with other activates and make sure it doesn’t encroach on other activities and sleep.
From an increase in dry-eye syndrome in kids, which is most commonly seen in adults 50 plus and is often caused by blinking less often, to blue light exposure, scientists are just beginning to understand the impact of so much screen time on our eyes. Whether it is for enjoyment or for studying, the screen time is straining young and growing eyes.
A study conducted by the University of Sydney found that exposure to sunshine as a young child is important for the development of healthy eyes. The study was published in the AOA professional journal and showed that kids who spend more time outdoors were less likely to be short-sighted or myopic, which means nearsighted. The research recommends that kids under 6 spend at least 10 hours outside in the sun each week.
The study says that exposing kids to sunlight at a young age “assists in the growth of a normal, healthy eyeball preventing it from growing too fast” and from becoming oval or egg-shaped versus round.
Watch for signs and symptoms
There are some telltale signs that your child might have some eye issues. If they have eyes that are slightly turned out or crossed, consistently sitting too close or too far from books or the TV, sensitive to light or excessive tearing, squinting or tilting their head to see better, and other issues outlined by the AOA, take them to the eye doctor for a check-up.
Get regular eye checks
Follow the schedule mentioned above to keep up with kids’ eye health. The American Academy of Pediatric and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthamology and Strabismus experts work together to develop recommendations based on scientific evidence and while the above guidelines are general you can a find a state-by-state guide here.
Provide kids with toys & activities that encourage visual development
According to the AOA there are many toys that can help your child develop visually and most parents probably don’t even realize it. Basically any toys that help hand-eye coordination will help promote eye health. Here are some examples from AOA.
- Newborn – 5-months
- Toys: Mobiles, baby gyms and bright rattles
- Activities: Peek-a-boo
- 6-8 months
- Toys: Stuffed animals and floating bath toys
- Activities: Reading to kids and hide-and-seek with toys.
- 9 – 12 Months
- Toys: Toddler books, blocks and stacking or nesting toys
- Activities: Reading to kids and rolling a ball.
- Toys: Balls, zippers, blocks and riding toys that they can push with their feet.
- Activities: Reading and throwing a ball
- Toys: Crayons, bean bag games, hammering toys, sorting shapes, puzzles and toddler books.
- Activities: Reading to kids and playing outside.
- 3 – 6-years-old
- Toys: Building with blocks or Legos, stringing beads, puzzles, crayons, finger paint, chalk, play dough or clay, sewing cards, matching shapes, bike/tricycle, connect the dots and sticker books.
- Activities: Playing catch, playing outside and reading.
- 7-yeard-old +
- Toys: Bike riding, jumping rope, roller skating or roller blading, target games, age appropriate puzzles, remote-control toys and sorting games.
- Activities: Riding your bike, horseback riding and outdoor sports.
Eat your colors
You need more than carrots for your eyes. According to WebMD food that contains specific key nutrients and antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and lutein are all linked to good eye health. Some examples of these foods include kale, spinach, grapefruit, strawberries, Brussel sprouts, seeds and nuts.
Have them wear sunglasses with full UV protection
Only about 58 percent of adults make their kids wear sunglasses, according to WebMD, but UV exposure is just as harmful to eyes as it is to skin. UV exposure can cause short-term and long-term effects on the eyes and people with blue eyes are more susceptible to the damage.
Kids are outside so much more than adults and half of the lifetime sun exposure happens within the first 20 years of life, according to the Optician Alliance of New York. And kids’ eye lens transmit more UV than adult eyes, about 70 percent more. This puts their eyes at greater risk. Couple that with the rapid ozone depletion still occurring and kids’ eyes today need more protection right from the start than our’s did 20 years ago.
Protect their eyes while at play
With so many kids now playing sports at younger and younger ages, protecting their eyes has become imperative.
According to Prevent Blindness America about 40,000 sports-related eye injuries occur each year and are bad enough to require a trip to the ER. About 90 percent of these could be prevent with protective eyewear.
For kids a lot of these injuries occur during sport activities. Anything with a ball, puck or projectile (including the human hand/fist) can be a sport that can damage their eyes.
For a full list of sports and to find out more about the type of protective eyewear you can chose for your child visit allaboutvision.com.