Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

Why sunlight is good for kids’ eye health

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

Did you know sunlight, in moderation, can actually be good for eye health amongst children? In fact, it’s a necessity.

Research has shown strong links between kids spending time outside in the sun and preventing short-sightedness, otherwise known as myopia.

Optometry Australia’s 2020 Vision Index revealed that 33 per cent of Australians had never heard of myopia despite the fact that globally, myopia is a leading cause of avoidable vision loss and that 50 per cent of the global population is predicted to have the condition by 2050. That is a staggering five billion people suffering from the condition, with a billion of these people predicted to have high myopia (where the power of their glasses is over -5.00D). Tragically, high myopia brings an increased risk of permanent vision loss or blindness through conditions like glaucoma, cataract and damage to the retina (the sensor layer at the back of the eye), so this issue isn’t just about kids having to wear glasses.

Brien Holden Vision Institute is re-launching its global Myopia Awareness Week initiative this week, from 24-28 May to bring attention to the growing epidemic of myopia in children across the world.

So what is myopia and why can getting outdoors help stop it in its tracks? Let’s find out.

What is myopia?

Myopia develops when the eyeball becomes too long or the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye) becomes too curved. Light entering the eye comes to a focus in front of the retina, instead of on it, causing distant objects to become blurry. This vision simulator tool is a great way for you to get an idea of vision with different scales of myopia.

What causes myopia?

Studies have found that genetics play a role as a person with one short-sighted parent has three times the risk of developing myopia – or six times the risk if both parents are short-sighted.

But it doesn’t all come down to the luck of the draw with genetics.

The way technology has changed our lives is also driving the growing global rates of myopia. Focusing on nearby objects like screens for long periods of time and a lack of exposure to bright light are also linked with the condition.

It is essential children get plenty of outdoor time and exposure to natural light for their eyes to develop properly, and recent research shows that almost half (43 per cent) of Australians are worried about developing or worsening myopia from too much screen time.

The link between myopia and time outside

A major study in China found myopia prevalence in six-year-olds increased by almost 400 per cent during 2020 compared to the year before. This period coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Chinese lockdown in 2020 involved home confinement for a significant period. The theory is that this lack of time outdoors plus more near activity, such as screen time or reading up close contributed to this staggering increase in myopia in these young kids.

A recent Queensland study tracking multiple variables showed that greater daily light exposure led to less eye growth/elongation and myopia.

Even on an overcast day and when wearing sunglasses, the light reaching the eye outdoors magnitudes brighter than what we get from artificial light indoors. Researchers believe this bright light helps the retina release a hormone called dopamine, which assists in properly regulating the growth of the eye.

What can you do to avoid and manage myopia?

There are a range of exciting new treatments available ot your local optometrist which can help slow the progression of myopia, such as special spectacle and contact lenses and prescription eye drops called atropine.

However, one of the simplest and easiest ways to slow the onset of myopia is to ensure kids are balancing screen time with 'green time'.

It is generally agreed that 10-15 hours a week of outdoor time is helpful in preventing the development of myopia and parents should aim for their children to spend at least 90 minutes a day outdoors.

It is still important to be sun smart when spending time outside of course. Remember the Aussie mantra of ‘Slip, Slop, Slap and Slide’. Even if a child is in the shade, with sunglasses and a hat on, the brightness of light entering the eye is still several times brighter than if they were next to a large window indoors.

If you are worried about your child’s eyesight, or your own, use our Find an Optometrist search function to locate your nearest optometrist.

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