Expert tips for improving your children's eye health this winter

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(BPT) - No matter the season, playing outside was the apex of childhood fun. Whether it was playing catch with a neighbor or building a fort or top-secret club house — spending the entire day outdoors was what kids did. However, things are different now, and with winter on the horizon, it's easy for kids to stay indoors and glued to a screen or a book. Not only do these activities keep kids from getting some exercise, but it can also impact their eye health.

Did you know too much time doing "near work" — looking at things close up — can lead to myopia? Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a disease affecting the ability to clearly see objects that are far away. Good vision is crucial to children doing their best in school and experiencing success as they grow and learn, but myopia is increasing rapidly, with 50% of the population being at risk by 2050. But the good news is, you can take proactive steps to help prevent myopia and limit its impact on your child's vision. Even better, those steps can involve revisiting your favorite winter memories from childhood with your own kids.

"Children with myopia are at greater risk for sight-threatening diseases later in life. For example, a child with medium to high myopia is five times more likely to develop cataracts and glaucoma," said Dr. Millicent Knight, OD, senior vice president, EssilorLuxottica."But you can make a difference and be proactive now. For example, take advantage of the opportunity to use your health benefits by the end of the year to bring your child in for a comprehensive eye exam."

The Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) offers these tips for improving your child's eye health.

Create a sight sanctuary

Outdoor play offers countless benefits, including eye health. Studies show children who spend just one hour outdoors each day can reduce their risk of developing myopia by 14%. Being outdoors and focusing on objects in the distance gives children a chance to relax their eye muscles, especially after hours of staring at screens.

Even when it's chilly, bundle kids up and get them outside to give their eyes a much-needed break. To encourage outdoor play, create a "sight sanctuary" — an outdoor play space dedicated to building snow forts or snow people, playing winter sports, having snowball fights or sledding, where kids can take a break from screen time that can contribute to myopia.

You can instill excitement about the outdoors and your sight sanctuary with holiday gifts like a new sled, ice skates or snowshoes. Make it a family snow day with a "snow person kit" complete with scarves, big button eyes and carrot noses for everyone to pitch in and build a snow family.

Limit screen time

You can also track kids' screen time to ensure that they get plenty of breaks from near work. Most Wi-Fi systems allow parents to pause or limit screen time. Offer alternative activities — especially if it's too cold or icy to play outdoors — like baking, charades or dance parties.

See an eye care professional

To safeguard your child's eye health, it's vital to make annual comprehensive eye exams a priority. While pediatrician vision screenings can be helpful, they miss up to 75% of children with vision problems — and provide less than 4% of the information obtained in a comprehensive exam by an eye care professional, according to the American Optometric Association.

Eye doctors use specialized equipment to capture a thorough picture of your child's eye health and vision to spot and diagnose eye diseases like myopia early, making treatment more effective. While visiting the eye doctor, ask about new myopia treatment options available in your area, including:

  • Orthokeratology lenses: Gas permeable lenses worn while asleep and removed when awake create a temporary change in cornea shape and simultaneously slow low-to-moderate myopia conditions so that glasses aren’t needed during the day.
  • Contact lenses: Soft multifocal or dual-focus contact lenses — typically used to improve near vision in people over 40 — have been shown to correct myopic vision in children while simultaneously slowing myopia progression by decreasing eye growth.
  • Low-dose atropine eye drops: Atropine dilates the pupil and relaxes the eyes' focusing mechanism. Clinical trials indicate low-dose atropine eye drops can slow myopia progression in children.
  • Glasses: For children who may not be ready for contact lenses, myopia-control glasses are another option. Talk to your eyecare provider about the best solution for your child.

Need to use health benefits by year's end? Now's the perfect time to schedule an appointment with an eye care professional. Visit MyopiaAwareness.org for more information and resources, including a doctor discussion guide to aid your child’s upcoming eye appointment.