Why outdoor play is important for your child's eyes

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 Photo: Shutterstock

Kids and screens have become inseparable, playing a huge role in their lives both at school and home. Understanding the vision risks your child is exposed to in staring at screens for long periods of time is essential in taking the necessary precautions to avoid long-term damage and vision problems including eye disease.

Electronic devices provide many benefits in helping to enhance kid's learning, provide entertainment and be social and creative however, it is important for them to participate in activities that don't involve a screen.

Parents should watch out for signs such as redness, rubbing or blur after screen time. These symptoms arise after prolonged periods of near focus to keep the text and images clear on the screen when engaging with a device and can also be due to drying of ocular surface.

Increasingly, Australian children are exceeding the recommended two hours of screen time per week, according to an ongoing study run by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian children found that kids aged 4 to 5-years-old spent more than two hours screen time during the week, which increased to three hours at ages 12 to 13. The study recommended that kids engage in physical activity that they enjoy, as this is linked to less time using electronic devices. Exposure to natural light, through outdoor play, is important to help the normal development of the eye and reduce the chance of developing myopia (near-sightedness). Prolonged screen time often prevents children from getting enough outdoor play.

Some parents underestimate the importance of regular eye check ups in preventing early eye diseases and problems. Some parents are surprised to learn their child can have their vision and eyes checked well before they've learned their alphabet.

A child's first eight years are when their visual system is undergoing the most amount of change, and if problems are not detected and treated during this period, there is a risk of reduced vision becoming permanent, Have your child's eyes checked every two years to ensure excellent vision for the future.

To reduce your child's risk here are some recognised tips to help keep your child's eyes protected and healthy from screens.

Sit at least 65 cm from the screen. The closer the screen, the greater the demand on the eyes. Have the screen an arm distance away, so measure the distance from your elbow to the screen.

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Reduce glare from the screen. This is important if you are using screens for extended periods, and can be done by lighting the room properly or using a screen filter to tone down the brightness of screens.

• Limit to 45-minute sessions. Place limits on the amount of time spent looking at a screen, especially if they are not doing something school related. Don't forget they would have been using screens at school as well.

Use the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look at something that is 20 feet away to relieve the eye muscles.

• Don't forget to blink.

Taking the necessary precautions when it comes to children and screens is essential to avoid long-term damage and vision problems. However for some children eye disease, can strike without warning and leave them severely vision impaired and even blind.

Serious eye diseases can affect people at any stage of life. Most people think glaucoma and retinal diseases as affecting only adults but there are rarer forms that present in children, and even newborn babies. Early diagnosis, treatment and intervention with vision support services allows a visually-impaired child to reach their best potential. Only research will help us find a cure for rare eye diseases in children.

The not-for-profit The Eye Surgeon's Foundation is holding its annual JulEYE campaign to increase awareness of eye health issues and raise funds for medical research to address the 25 percent of vision impairment conditions that do not have cures. With more than 1,600 children diagnosed with significant vision impairment every year, there has never been a more important time to donate to JulEYE to fund vital medical research projects to create a future where no one is blind.

To find out more about JulEYE and register for the EYECon Night Walk on July 29th to support important medical research to help end preventable blindness, visit www.juleye.com.au

Dr Caroline Catt from The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists, is a Paediatric Ophthalmologist and JulEYE Ambassador.