Myopia in children: How outdoor activities can help

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    The popularity of the digital age means that many children are spending less time outdoors and more screen time indoors. Encouraging outdoor activities can play a significant role in preventing or decreasing the risk of myopia in children. Discover more about how to protect your child’s vision with these insights from Bloom.

    What is myopia?

    Myopia is commonly known as nearsightedness. It’s a refractive error of the eye that affects your ability to see distant objects clearly. So, near objects appear clear but distant objects appear blurred. This is because the light that enters the eye focuses in the front of the retina instead of the back of the retina. If the eyeball is too long or if it is oval-shaped rather than round, myopia will occur. The condition usually develops during childhood and is caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.

    Common symptoms of childhood myopia to look out for include:

    • Blurred vision when looking at distant objects
    • Squinting 
    • Frequent headaches, which often occur after a visual task 
    • Eyestrain and eye fatigue
    • Sitting very close to the TV or the blackboard
    • Excessive blinking
    • Constant eye rubbing 

    Myopia in children is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination that is performed by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

    Correcting myopia

    Nearsightedness can be remedied with the following solutions:

    • Eyeglasses: a person with myopia can be fitted with concave spectacle lenses or contact lenses, which will help focus the light directly on the retina thereby compensating for the elongated shape of the eyeball. 
    • Refractive surgery: in some cases, certain procedures can reshape the cornea to correct myopia.

    The link between myopia in children and outdoor activities

    There is growing evidence that supports the link between myopia in children and a lack of exposure to natural light. When a child spends an excessive amount of time indoors with limited exposure to natural outdoor light, their risk of developing myopia increases. 

    • Light exposure: natural light is brighter and varied, compared to indoor light. A child’s exposure to sunlight is thought to play a significant role in preventing or delaying the development of myopia. This is because sunlight triggers the release of dopamine in the retina, which helps regulate eye growth thereby preventing elongation of the eyeball. 
    • Focusing distance: when children are engaged in indoor activities, especially prolonged screen time on phones or laptops, they can risk eye strain. However, children are exposed to objects at varied distances when engaging in outdoor activities. This encourages them to focus at different depths and helps their eyes adjust to these differences.

    Spending time outdoors means less exposure to close-up activities, which strain the eye and contribute to the development of myopia. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to manage a healthy balance of indoor near-work activities and outdoor activities to reduce the risk of myopia. Discover more about Why playing outdoors is good for your health.

    Effective Strategies for healthy vision

    While outdoor activities are believed to reduce the risk of myopia in children, it’s not guaranteed prevention. There are many other risk factors at play, including genetics, overall eye health, and lifestyle habits. Parents and caregivers can ensure that outdoor activities are a regular part of a child’s daily routine with medical professionals suggesting about two hours of exposure to natural outdoor light every day. Other effective ways to go about preventing nearsightedness in children include:

    • Good lighting and reading habits. Children should be provided with good lighting when engaged in near-work activities. This will help reduce eye strain.  Maintaining a good reading posture is also needed for eye health. Encourage a child to sit up straight and keep the reading material positioned about 30-50cm from their eyes. 
    • Limit near-work and screen time. Prolonged near-work activities, like reading or using digital devices, can put a strain on your eyes. 
    • Eyes exercises for preventing nearsightedness. Children should be encouraged to take regular breaks and engage in eye exercises, like focusing on distant objects, blinking to moisturise the eye and rolling the eyes gently. 
    • Healthy lifestyle. Children should eat a balanced diet that includes foods rich in nutrients, like vitamins A, C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, that promote good eye health. 
    • Regular eye examinations. If your child is at risk for developing myopia it’s advisable to schedule regular eye examinations in order to monitor the situation and to take preventative measures or corrective action, if necessary.

    Healthcare cover with optometry benefits

    Outdoor play for children will improve their overall physical health and mental well-being. It’s also a proven way to decrease the risk of myopia in children. Should your child require health services for their vision, you can get top-quality optometry benefits with a health insurance or medical aid plan. Contact our office to discuss your options with a trained consultant.

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