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CATES: Children’s eye health and safety month - Odessa American: Opinions

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CATES: Children’s eye health and safety month

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Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019 12:30 am

In early April, my husband suffered a significant eye injury. I think if I were to ask pretty much anyone I know, they would all say “eyesight is precious,” and before this accident, I would have said the same.

Since my husband’s injury, I can tell you “precious” is an understatement when it comes to eyesight. There are very few things in our life that haven’t been affected by his injury — from big things like his job to small things like tying his shoes.

He is still looking at a great deal of treatment and recovery to get his vision back to where it was before his injury, but he should get back to pre-injury vision sometime in the next several months.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with far too many people; their vision losses are permanent. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.3 billion people globally are impacted by vision loss ranging from mild losses to blindness. WHO also states that 80 percent of all vision loss is avoidable. That is why it is so important to pay attention to eye health and safety, particularly in children, so we can impact those avoidable vision losses.

 “Is Too Much Screen Time Harming Children’s Vision?” is the theme for August 2019 National Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. 

Did you know we are facing a worldwide epidemic of myopia (nearsightedness)? I had no idea this was an increasing problem until I was doing research on the subject of children’s eye health and safety.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) states that since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness in the U.S. has doubled, with 42 percent of the people in the U.S. now having some level of nearsightedness.

In Asia, up to 90 percent of teenagers are nearsighted. Something is causing this sharp increase in the amount of nearsightedness, but scientists cannot agree on exactly what that cause is.

But, there is growing evidence that this increase is largely because of the increase in near work activities — like screens and books.

Additional studies have shown that children who spend more time outdoors, especially early in childhood, have a lower incidence of nearsightedness.

Scientists just don’t know if it’s the near work focusing, the light from devices and how that might affect eye growth, a combination, or something else we just don’t know about yet that is increasing the incidence of nearsightedness. But they do know one thing that seems to be part of the issue is eyestrain.

Eyestrain is a problem with extended screen times and other near work activities. Symptoms kids can experience are dry eyes, headaches and blurry vision. Most of those are temporary, but can become frequent and persistent if the eyestrain is not relieved.

The best thing both kids and adults can do to prevent eye strain is to take frequent breaks. Experts recommend a 20-second break every 20 minutes.

Ten things you can do to help protect your kids eyes from eye strain are: setting a kitchen timer to remind you and your kids to take a break; alternate reading eBooks with real books, and encourage kids to look up and out the window every two chapters; with video games, look up and out the window for at least 20 seconds every level; pre-mark books with paperclips every few chapters to remind people to look up, you can use the book mark feature on eBooks in the same way; avoid using computers and devices in brightly lit areas or outdoors to avoid glare on the screen; adjust brightness and contrast on screens so they feel comfortable; use good posture when reading or using a computer or device, so eyes are at comfortable angles to the device; hold or place devices at least 18-24 inches away from your or your children’s eyes; create distractions that make people look up from their devices every once and awhile; and remind individuals to blink when watching a screen.

K. David Epley, M.D., the clinical spokesperson for the AAO stated, “I prefer to teach kids good habits to avoid eyestrain as opposed to crutches like reading glasses that may encourage even more use of digital media.”

He went on to say, “If you run too far and your legs start hurting, you stop. Likewise, if you’ve been reading too long or watching videos too long, and your eyes start hurting, you should stop.”

For more information about keeping your children’s eyes healthy, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart website at https://www.aao.org/eye-health, speak to your primary health care provider, or primary eye care provider.

Odessa, TX

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