Don’t kid around: the importance of being proactive about children’s eye health

With the end of summer holidays in sight, parents are frantically putting together their back to school to do lists before the first bell rings. Classroom supplies always make the cut, as do new shoes and sunhats, but the importance of eye exams for our littlest learners often go overlooked.

According to Optometry Australia’s 2022 Vision Index Report, nearly a third of parents believe that children only need to visit an optometrist once eye symptoms present. However, with one in five children harbouring undetected vision problems, it’s imperative to shift this mindset.

So, here are some easy ways to be more proactive about your child’s eye health in 2024.

Make a date with your optometrist 

Early detection is the cornerstone of maintaining good eye health in children.  

Optometry Australia recommends scheduling an eye exam for your child in the year they start school and then every year after that until adulthood. This proactive approach allows optometrists to identify and address any potential issues early on, providing children with the best opportunity to reach their full potential in the classroom. 

“Regular eye examinations can uncover conditions such as hyperopia (long-sightedness), myopia (short-sightedness), astigmatism and eye movement & co-ordination issues which, if left untreated, may impact a child's academic performance and overall wellbeing,” said Dom Willson, optometrist and Professional Services Advisor at Optometry Australia. 

You can schedule an appointment with your local optometrist by using our easy search tool here and selecting the Children’s Vision option from the Services Provided drop down menu.

Prioritise green over screen  

While technology does have a significant role in the realms of education and entertainment, for the sake of children’s eyesight it's essential to balance screen time with outdoor activities.  

With researchers from China and Australia discovering that spending about an extra 1.25 hours per day outsidereduces the risk of developing myopia by 50 percent, it’s never been more important to promote the importance of outdoor play. 

“When we consider that our 2022 Vision Index Report found that over half of parents surveyed said their children were spending at least four hours in front of screens every day, we can understand the implications this is having on ‘green time’.”

Encourage a balanced diet 

Key findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) revealed only 1 in 25 Aussie kids aged 5-14 years of age consume the recommended daily serving of vegetables.  

As it does for the body, nutrition also plays a vital role in maintaining good eye health.  

Foods like broccoli, oranges, mangos, spinach, carrots, kiwi fruit, strawberries and oil-rich fish like salmon and tuna provide essential nutrients like lutein, zinc, vitamin A, C and E as well as omega-3 fatty acids to boost eye health. 

“These nutrients are known to support the development and maintenance of eye tissues and a diet rich in them can help reduce the risk of developing certain eye conditions as we age like cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, dry eyes and poor night vision. By instilling positive eating habits in childhood, your kids will be held in better stead as they head toward adolescence and adulthood.”

Props for protective eyewear 

In Australia, it has been estimated that sports-related eye injuries make up 11% of all paediatric eye injuries with boys twice as likely to sustain a significant eye injury compared to girls. 

“Children and young people who wear appropriate protective gear like helmets and goggles, as well as glasses specifically made for the likes of cricket and tennis, reduce their risk of sustaining ocular damage while participating in sporting activities,”  

Additionally, sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are fundamental for shielding kids’ eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.  

"Children's eyes, with their wider pupils and clearer lenses than adults, are particularly susceptible to UV radiation especially before the age of two. By ages nine to 11, approximately 30 percent of young people exhibit UV damage, and by the age of 15, one in three will have developed pterygium or pinguecula.”

Be vigilant about any changes to vision 

Regular eye check-ups are essential, but as a parent, it's crucial to stay vigilant about any changes in your child's vision.  

“Keep an eye out for signs such as squinting, excessive blinking, frequent eye rubbing or “knuckling”, complaining of headaches or eye discomfort or any noticeable changes in their academic performance, especially literacy skills, interest in reading, and ability to concentrate on schoolwork generally.” 

Timely intervention can make a significant difference in addressing vision issues and ensuring your child receives the care they need to maintain good vision for life. 

It is recommended that every Australian, from the time they start primary school, pay their optometrist a visit every year until age 18, then every two years as an adult, and then yearly again after turning 65, for a comprehensive eye examination. 

To schedule an appointment with your local optometrist today, use our easy search tool here.

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