I’ve been nearsighted since I was eight and I’ve always hated that. Contacts or glasses – it’s just one extra thing you have to do. Plus, I can hardly do anything without them. Ever read “Lord of the Flies”? Remember Piggy and how useless he becomes without his glasses? Don’t worry if you’ve never read it, but if you have, then you can know that I have recurring nightmares about becoming Piggy.
Children’s vision at highest risk
Kids are usually born with perfect vision and we should help them preserve their vision for as long as possible! Our eyes are in growth and development mode from infancy through adulthood. Vision tends to stabilize in adulthood, but during the long prior developmental period, children’s eyes are more vulnerable to positive or negative factors that can affect their growth. (Enter coronavirus and distance learning for the kids – yikes, what is going to be the impact?!!)
Eye health declining globally
Generally, there’s two reasons that experts say are responsible for myopia or other eye problems. One, genetics (not much you can do about that currently) and two, environmental factors such as exposure to outdoor light, eye strain, near work, and fatigue.
There appears to be a worldwide rise in myopia possibly due to environmental factors, but the research isn’t definitive yet. About half the young adults in the US and Europe have myopia (double the number from 50 years ago) and in China 90% of young adults and teenagers are nearsighted compared to 10%-20% just 60 years ago. In fact, researchers estimate that one third of the world population will be nearsighted by 2020. Freaky, right!?
The truth is that researchers are still not sure what may be causing the surge of myopia. They just have a lot of theories with various data to support. However, there is a lot of data that often points to the following culprits:
- Rise in close work: any activities that focus your eyes on nearby objects such as crafts, reading, electronic devices, even Legos!
- Lots of screen time. It has even caused dry eye in children, a condition typically found in middle-aged adults
- Too much time indoors! The less time you spent outdoors the likelier you are to be myopic, apparently exposure to bright, natural light (outdoors) is necessary for natural eye development
What can be done?
If you want to reduce the likelihood for eye problems, research results suggest the following:
- Most importantly, raise your awareness of eye-straining activities (you gotta realize it’s a problem if you are ever going to remember to do anything about it – don’t wait until you have symptoms!)
- Make sure you do near work such as reading, homework, legos, puzzles in good lighting and even better, if it is in natural lighting
- Build habits for regular breaks and reasonable usage for devices and other near work, like the 20-20-20 rule (For every 20 minutes of close work, look at something 20 ft away for 20 seconds).
- Ensure that you maintain a good reading and writing distance – this is often overlooked especially in children, but very important. The links below will help you ensure that you do close work with the right distances:
- Getting sufficient sleep to reduce eye fatigue and strain when doing close tasks
- Replace indoor time with more time outdoors. According to Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, children need about 3 hours of outdoor time daily to be protected against myopia. I researched this topic further here.
- Check your vision regularly. These free, eye chart printables can be helpful for checking regularly at home.
Global rise of myopia:
A look at the possible causes of myopia:
More on children’s screen time, and tips for healthier viewing:
Dry eyes caused by screen time:
Outdoor light has protective effect on vision:
How much outdoor light you need to protect against myopia: