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Let’s Keep An Eye On Our Children’s Sight

Dr Chin Pik Kee, Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City’s paediatric ophthalmologist recommends that children not start playing with digital gadgets until they reach two-years-old, and for children below 10-years-old, to limit recreational screen time to a maximum of two hours a day, with breaks in between.

Girl having her eyesight tested. Photo courtesy of Sunway Medical Centre.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 17 – Children’s eye health is important in contributing to their development and well-being. During their childhood years, their eyes and brain undergo a critical period of development. Therefore, it is important for every parent and guardian to keep an eye on their children’s eye health to ensure the normal maturation process of their visual system.  

When the pandemic happened, causing various social disruptions, it affected many, including children, in diverse ways.  “There are data from other countries which shows that the rates of myopia, or near-sightedness, a common eyesight condition where near objects are seen clearly while distant objects look blurry, increased during the pandemic when lockdowns were implemented and schooling went virtual,” said Dr Chin Pik Kee, Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City’s paediatric ophthalmologist.   

“The increasing incidence of myopia among children is a growing concern worldwide. Apart from genetics, myopia is also caused by environmental factors such as urbanisation of rural communities and the modern lifestyle. These changes result in activities of living shifting indoors and increasing the amount of time doing near work.” 

Myopia and the impact of Covid-19 are just a couple of the on-going concerns when it comes to children’s eye health.  Other concerns include: 

  • Digital Eye Strain caused by digital devices and increased screen time. Among the symptoms are eye fatigue, dry eyes, eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. 
  • Eye Injury caused by sharp objects, projectiles (e.g. toy guns), firecrackers, as well as bites or scratches from pets and other animals.
  • Childhood obesity, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and diabetic eye disease.
  • Lack of awareness on the importance of regular eye screenings, which can result in the delayed diagnosis of important vision problems. 

“Some occurrences may be unavoidable, for instance, the usage of computers or tablets for classes and homework. However, there are ways to help reduce the symptoms by instilling good habits among the children,” said Dr Chin.

“These include looking away from the screen and into the distance every 20 minutes, remembering to blink often, sitting with a good posture and taking short breaks at regular intervals. Also, it is just sensible to reduce recreational screen time accordingly if the child already spends a lot of screen time for studies.”  

On the appropriate amount of screen time, Dr Chin advised, “My recommendation is for children to not start playing with digital gadgets until they reach two-years-old. After that, they may engage in screen-based activities together with their parents or carers, not alone and unsupervised. As for children below 10-years-old, I suggest limiting recreational screen time to a maximum of two hours a day, with breaks in between.”  

Dr Chin emphasised that children need time for creative play, physical activities and outdoor time, all of which are important for holistic growth and development of a child.  “Studies have consistently identified outdoor time as an important factor for normal eye growth in childhood. Children who spend at least two hours outdoors daily are less likely to develop myopia. They also start to need glasses for myopia at an older age, if they need them at all.” 

Here are more proactive steps that parents can take to maintain their children’s eye health:

  • Eye screenings as this is the best way to detect vision problems. Infants and young children can seem to see normally even when they have serious eye conditions. Hence, parents may not notice any concerns until at a later stage. 
  • Encourage outdoor activities and ensure they cut down their gadget use and screen time. 
  • Provide children with a healthy, balanced diet. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables and fruits, like carrots, leafy greens, fish, and citrus fruits, contain nutrients that support eye health. 
  • Education on eye safety and prevention of injuries, such as from sharp objects, projectiles (e.g., toy guns), firecrackers and bites or scratches from pets.  

Dr Chin, however, cautioned that taking dietary supplements in the absence of a deficiency does not improve vision. “Excessive intake of certain vitamins may even be harmful,” she reminded. 

As the eyes are our windows to the world, it is important to stay updated with the latest research and recommendations from eye care professionals. Parents should always stay vigilant for any signs of vision problems or discomfort in their children and bring them to see an eye doctor if they notice anything unusual about their child’s eyes or vision.

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