Lack of sunlight raising worries about children’s eyesight
Pedro Gomez OD
Telling little ones to “go play outside” isn’t just good for a parent’s sanity. Time spent in the daylight also is beneficial for children’s sight.
About 5 percent of school-age kids in the U.S. have myopia, or nearsightedness, a condition the World Health Organization says is rising to epidemic proportions around the globe.
Karen Woodhouse, the director of the group Eyes on Learning, says researchers believe higher myopia rates might be connected to children spending less time outdoors.
“There’s a lot of reasons that might contribute to that,” she says. “One of them is that with the devices nowadays, the screens and whatever it is that they’re playing indoors, they’re not just going outside like we did back in the day. And so, the amount of light that is getting into their eye has decreased.”
Woodhouse says research has shown that an extra 40 minutes a day spent outdoors can make a difference in reducing a child’s risk of becoming nearsighted. She notes it’s something parents may need to be vigilant about this time of the year, when the days are shorter, the weather gets colder and it becomes harder to pull kids away from their screen time.
When left undiagnosed, Woodhouse says myopia can affect kids’ school experience. They might not be able to fully see the whiteboard in the classroom or what the teacher is doing, and start to miss things.
“And that’s when kids get distracted, they figure they’re not understanding or they’re not getting it,” she warns. “And unfortunately, that may result in some behavior problems and potentially some misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder, or some dyslexia problems. A lot of times, that’s just related to the fact that they’re not seeing well.”
But she notes children with myopia may not be aware that they can’t see as well as their peers. She encourages parents to speak with their child’s teacher about possible signs of a vision problem.
“If they’re squinting, if they need to get closer to the board, if they’re being distracted or behaviorally not doing what they normally would do, if they complain that their eyes are tired or they get headaches, or they’re rubbing their eyes regularly – those are all things that can be really good cues for parents,” Woodhouse says.
She adds that vision screenings are recommended starting at a young age, whether through a pediatrician or at school.
Pedro Gomez OD.
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