Inge Loubser, our expert optometrist shares some of the most frequently asked questions by parents.
1. Can watching too much television or playing on a tablet/phone affect my child’s eyes?
Even though most parents would like the answer to this question to be ‘yes’, watching television or using your tablet/phone for long periods of time will not worsen your eyesight. Eye care practitioners are, however, concerned because although exposure to blue light from digital screens is not bad in itself, overexposure can cause damage to your retinas over the long term.
One way to combat blue light exposure is to choose spectacles with a proper anti-reflective coating. For example, Zeiss DuraVision BlueProtect coating specifically eliminates the blue-violet light emitted from LEDs, TVs, computers and tablet screens.
Too much screen time can also make your eyes tired, due to the muscles that help the eyes to focus and this can lead to headaches. If your child tends to sit very close to the television screen, or holds the tablet up close to their face, this might be a sign of near-sightedness and an eye examination is then advisable.
A good rule of thumb is never to sit closer than three to four metres from the TV screen and to sit up straight while watching. Always give your eyes a rest after doing 20 minutes of any near visual tasks, and focus on something that is 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
2. If my child needs spectacles, can it make their eyes lazy?
The answer is no. The need for spectacles, among other factors, is determined by the shape and size of our eyeballs. This is unfortunately not a muscle that can be exercised to improve a refractive error like near- or farsightedness, or astigmatism. Similarly, it is not a muscle that can become lazy while wearing spectacles. Our eyes are supposed to be in a relaxed state of focus when viewing distant objects. An uncorrected refractive error actually causes eyestrain, as the eyes are constantly trying to correct the error.
3. Should my child wear their spectacles all the time?
Depending on the refractive error, it is advisable that spectacles be worn all the time. In certain instances, however, the spectacles could be removed for certain visual tasks e.g. a child who is near-sighted might not need to wear their spectacles during near-visual tasks, but a child with astigmatism should wear their spectacles all the time and the same applies to children who are farsighted, depending on the degree of farsightedness. Always consult your eye care professional with regards to the wearing regime of your child’s spectacles, as this plays a very important role in the development of your child’s future visual potential.
4. Is there any exercise that can be done to eliminate the need for spectacles?
In some cases, visual therapy can be done to eliminate eyestrain due to overaccommodation (over focus) or where the muscles that are responsible for eye movement need to be strengthened. There is unfortunately, no exercise that can be done to correct a refractive error (near-, farsightedness or astigmatism) as this has to do with the shape and size of our eyes.
“Every child should have a full eye examination by the age of five years, or before they go to primary school. their parents wear sunglasses. Parents should therefore set an example for their children.”
5. How often should my child come for an eye examination?
Regular eye examinations are important to detect vision problems which may interfere with learning. Every child should have a full eye examination by the age of five years, or before they go to primary school. It is advisable that an eye examination is done yearly for scholars and students. In cases where there are certain health conditions such as diabetes, problems with the eye muscle movement, or a family history of visual problems, more frequent eye examinations might be necessary.
6. Will my child ‘outgrow’ the need for spectacles?
Spectacles are not a medical treatment where you get a pair and then after a year or two your problem has been treated and your eyes have recovered. Due to the constant change of the eye shape as it is growing, your child might not necessarily outgrow the need for spectacles, but in some instances, it might be possible that the refractive error changes.
7. Will the fact that both parents wear spectacles mean that their children will also need spectacles one day?
There is definitely a strong genetic component, especially if both parents have high refractive errors. The need for spectacles, however, is not only determined by our genes. Nonetheless, if one or both parents wear spectacles, it is advisable to take their children for a full eye examination at a young age.
8. From what age do contact lenses become an option?
Contact lenses can be worn from a very young age, even some babies are fitted with contact lenses especially if they have a very high refractive error and spectacle lenses become an issue due to weight and comfort. If a baby or toddler needs contact lenses, it is the sole responsibility of the parents to insert, remove, clean and store the lenses in their container.
Once your child becomes more independent and he or she can take proper care themselves, they can do this themselves but this will depend on each child’s maturity level.
9. What type of lenses or frames are recommended for my child?
Safety and comfort are always a priority when fitting a child with any pair of spectacles. Firstly, make sure that the frame is lightweight. It must fit correctly and be comfortable, especially on and behind the ears and on the bridge of the nose. A frame should not be too wide for your child’s face, as this can cause the frame to constantly slip down. On the other hand, it should also not be too tight against your child’s head – especially with small children or babies, as this can lead to headaches due to pressure on the sides of the head.
Plastic lenses are a must as they are light and more resistant to breakage. It is, therefore, a much safer option than glass – children should NOT wear glass lenses. For instances where a high prescription is required, there are options to make the lenses thinner and lighter, thereby ensuring that the lenses are not ‘heavy’. Usually, a hard coating is recommended to prevent lenses from scratching easily. Zeiss is currently the only manufacturer of spectacle lenses that effectively block UV rays up to 400 nm in clear lenses.
For more eye care tips and advice, visit www.mellins.co.za