Screen time over the holidays could damage eyesight for children heading back to school

Optometrist Babara Vermeulen tests the health of the eyes of a child preparing for the coming school year.

Optometrist Babara Vermeulen tests the health of the eyes of a child preparing for the coming school year.

Local Optometrist Babara Vermeulen is warning the 2546 children and their parents in the Victor Harbor area to watch out for symptoms and hit the refresh button on screen time for the new year with many Aussie children heading back to school.

This comes as new research has indicated that compared to the same time last year, concern around children's screen time has risen by 10 per cent with a staggering 86 per cent of parents of children aged 0-19 expressing concern around the long-term effects of their child's screen time.

On average, children spend three hours each day on screens, triple the amount of time recommended by the World Health Organisation, increasing the risk of developing myopia (short sighted-ness).

Along with healthcare providers, 91 per cent of parents agree that it's too much.

Victor Harbor Specsavers Optometrist Babara Vermeulen said as Australian primary and secondary school children prepared to head back into the classroom, now was a great time for parents to schedule in an eye test.

"This would ensure they are sending their child back into a face-to-face learning environment with healthy, happy eyes," Babara said.

"In a children's eye test, we typically look for signs of refractive error such as long and short-sightedness and astigmatism. We also assess for signs and symptoms of digital eye strain, such as sore eyes and headaches, as well as other ocular health issues.

"As children's eyes are still developing during their schooling years, it's important to identify any potential issues early so they can be corrected or managed."

Optometrists in Victor Harbor are calling for parents to schedule an eye test ahead of the new school year, after periodic lockdowns across the country in the last 12 months have meant an increase in screen time and concerns over digital eye strain.

In the last 12 months, an increase in screen time has been somewhat unavoidable due to home-schooling. In fact, 71 per cent of parents say their child's screen time has increased because of COVID-19.

"When kids are on phones and computers, it adds a significant demand on close vision, which can cause digital eye strain. Staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time has been shown to increase the risk of myopia or becoming short-sighted.

"This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. If your child complains about headaches, blurred vision, trouble focusing or any other issues with their eyes, I recommend booking an appointment with an optometrist straight away rather than waiting until their next check-up."

Babara said in a children's eye test, an optometrist looked for signs of refractive error such as long and short-sightedness and astigmatism.

"We also assess for signs and symptoms of digital eye strain, such as sore eyes and headaches, as well as other ocular health issues. As children's eyes are still developing during their schooling years, it's important to identify any potential issues early so they can be corrected or managed," Babara said.

Babara Vermeulen's top tips for screen time with kids: 1 Remind your child to blink. This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out. 2 Keep a bottle of water close-by. Your eyes dry out when you're dehydrated so making sure your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important. 3 Follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means, every 20 minutes remind your child to shift their eyes to look at an object at least 20 metres away, for at least 20 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to take small 'window' breaks and look out at a faraway object to give their eyes a break from their screen. 4 Make sure that during the school week, your children spend time playing outside or stepping away from the screen to do another activity to give their eyes a break.

It is recommended that children of all ages get a routine eye test every two years unless directed otherwise by their optometrist.

To book your appointment or for more information, go to https://www.specsavers.com.au/stores.

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