Children's Eye Health Fact and Myth
Many parents grew up with medical adages or advice that have since been proven by scientists to be incorrect or outdated. Here is a review of five common myths about children’s eye health and the medical reality behind them, prepared by the physicians at The Vision Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
1. Sitting too close to the TV will damage your child’s eyes.
Myth. “Sitting in front of the TV or a computer screen for four hours may hinder your child’s intellectual development but it will not damage their eyes,” notes Dr. Mark Borchert, division head of The Vision Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Nearly half of all kids spend four hours or more per day using computers and electronic devices, according to a recent national survey. Dr. Borchert notes that children can develop blurred vision, headaches and other problems when focusing too long on one object, such as a computer screen. Long video game sessions may have adverse consequences such as reduced social interaction or less time doing homework, however, they will not permanently damage a child’s eyes.
“If a child is sitting too close to the TV or computer screen, it is probably because he needs glasses to see well. Sitting very close to the screen will not cause them to need glasses,” said Dr. Borchert.
To make your child’s computer station more comfortable, make sure the screen is at eye level. Reduce screen glare by using a desk lamp with a dimmer so there isn’t a big contrast between the brightness of the screen and the room. Make sure your child can’t see her own reflection on the screen.
Enforce the 20/20 rule. Have your child take a 20-second break for every 20 minutes of screen time, either by getting up and stretching or by looking out the window.
The concern about TV screens damaging young eyes originated in the 1960s when some early color TV sets were discovered to be emitting high amounts of X-rays. The problem was soon corrected and modern TV monitors, including older tube-type sets and new LCD models, are safe and do not emit any dangerous rays.
2. Eating lots of carrots will improve a child’s eyesight.
Myth. Carrots do contain Vitamin A, which is a key ingredient in good overall nutrition, however, eating a lot of them will not improve your eyesight. Recent research findings have found that eating foods rich in Lutein, a plant nutrient, may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness in older adults. Lutein is a carotenoid, natural pigment, found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, plus various fruits and corn.
“The research is very preliminary, but it does suggest that Lutein can help protect against adults developing macular degeneration. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of green vegetables should be sufficient for most families,” said Dr. Borchert.
Carrots reputation as eyesight enhancers is partially due to the fact that Vitamin A sources are helpful in treating night blindness, also called nyctalopia, which can be caused by Vitamin A deficiency.
3. Only adults can wear contact lenses safely.
Myth. Children of all ages, even infants, can wear contact lenses safely if the correct procedures are followed. Under the age of 10, an adult will need to insert, remove and clean the lens. Many children over 10 can handle the contact lenses (wearing and cleaning) themselves.
According to Dr. Borchert, pediatric ophthalmologists may prescribe contact lenses for infants and very young children to enhance vision development when the eyes have very different prescriptions after cataract surgery, corneal scarring or diseases like Retinopathy of Prematurity.
Dr. Borchert said older children could manage their own contact lens care if they are mature and responsible. “If they make their own bed and shower on their own, they can probably safely handle their contact lens.”
He noted that it is not a good idea for elementary school children to wear contact lenses just for cosmetic reasons. Also, all contact lenses should be obtained through a physician, either an ophthalmologist (M.D.) or a doctor of optometry (O.D.).
4. Running with scissors is the leading cause of eye injury in children.
Myth. A recent national survey found that approximately 59% of pediatric eye injuries occur during sport and recreational events. The National Eye Institute also states that baseball is the sport responsible for the greatest number of eye injuries in children aged 14 and younger. However, basketball is the leading cause of eye injuries in those aged 15 to 24.
According to Prevent Blindness America, 72 percent of all sports-related eye injuries are to those aged 25 and younger. Yet, only 15 percent of children wear eye protection. Children should be encouraged to wear the appropriate safety eyewear, such as goggles or face masks, for every sport in which they participate.
“We need a cultural change in this country. Children who play contact sports such as basketball and baseball should be wearing eye protection – most do not. Twenty years ago, very few children wore bicycle helmets, now a parent would be considered irresponsible if she sent her child out riding without a helmet. We need the same sense of concern when children play sports,” said Dr. Borchert.
5. It is impossible to get young children to wear sunglasses.
Myth. “It is very important that young children wear sunglasses and the newer products with strap-on frames are easy for them to wear,” said Dr. Borchert.
The lens of a child allows 70% more UV rays to reach the delicate retina than in an adult. Most parents are aware of the critical need to protect their children’s skin from UV exposure with sun block, yet few insist their children wear sunglasses.
“If it is bright enough outdoors for you to be wearing sunglasses, your child should also be wearing them,” said Dr. Borchert.
New, colorful sunglasses with Velcro straps, designed for infants and toddlers are available in stores and via the Internet. They are comfortable and provide excellent protection from UV rays and foreign objects. Most young children adapt to them easily.