If you’re reading this right now, you’re using two very important organs in your body: your eyes!
Although we use our eyes to see, read and ultimately make sense of the world, their health doesn’t often get as much attention compared to other parts of the body.
Since August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, we’re taking the opportunity to talk about children’s eye health – and how to keep your children’s peepers in tip top shape. Here are four ways to do so.
1. Schedule Regular Children’s Eye Health Exams
Kids should have a routine children’s eye exam around age three and then just before they start kindergarten or third grade, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).
The doctor can check for both common or uncommon eye problems in children, like nearsighted or farsighted, lazy or crossed eyes, or color blindness. A routine check can give you peace of mind that everything is working properly!
2. Limit Use of Electronic Devices
Research shows electronic devices can actually age children’s eyes prematurely:
- A 2014 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus found smartphones might contribute to eye problems in kids. Those can include dry eye issues, such as fatigue, burning, and extra tears[*].
- Another study from 2011 published in Progress in Retinal and Eye Research found kids’ eyes absorb more blue light from screens on electronic devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, than adults [*].
- Eye health problems have been linked to these blue light emissions. Those include excessive eye strain, risk of early retinal damage, and sleep cycle disturbances.
(Plus, modern devices aren’t that great for posture or a good night’s sleep either.)
Children are also still developing the type of self-awareness needed to realize when they need a break from screens. So we can help protect our children’s eye health by monitoring electronics use.
More time on smartphones and iPads and video games means less time being active through physical play. Encourage kids to get outside more and set limits on electronic time.
3. Wear Protective Gear and Clothing – Especially in the Sun
Screens aren’t the only threats to our children’s eye health. Sports- and sun-related injuries can occur. Here are some protective tips:
- If your kids participate in sports or other recreational activities, make sure they wear any necessary protective eyewear. This can help avoid preventable injuries or vision impairment.
- Keep toys age-appropriate, avoiding those with parts that are sharp or stick out.
- When spending time outside, have kids wear sunglasses with 99% or 100% UVA and UVB protection. This helps prevent sun-related eye deterioration or damage. And always teach them not to stare directly at the sun!
4. Focus on Eye-Healthy Nutrition
Children are still developing, so nutrition is optimally important for their whole bodies—including the eyes. Many of the healthiest whole foods contain the best vitamins for eye health. Those include:
BETA CAROTENE AND VITAMIN A
Vitamin A (and its precursor, beta carotene) is well-known as one of the best vitamins for eye health. Most people correlate vitamin A with carrots because they’re known for better eyesight. But carrots also contain a purple pigment called rhodopsin, which helps kids and adults see better in low light.
Other foods with vitamin A include sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, cantaloupe, red peppers, and mango.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that, like vitamin A, may help in the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts.
You can find vitamin C in many fruits and vegetables, including oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, kiwis, red and green bell peppers, and broccoli.
Another important antioxidant for overall health, including eye health, vitamin E is found in:
- nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds and oils, almonds, peanut butter, and hazelnuts
- produce like broccoli, spinach, mangos, kiwi, and tomatoes
Zinc is a nutrient and antioxidant that research has shown may help reduce the risk of aging-related macular degeneration and vision loss down the road [*].
Foods high in zinc include:
- seafood like oysters and lobster
- meats like beef and chicken
- and plant foods like baked beans, chickpeas, cashews, oatmeal, almonds, and kidney beans
The Bottom Line
Children’s eye health isn’t the most exciting thing to think about, but that’s no reason to take them for granted! Taking steps to support your children’s health, including their eye health, helps prevent future problems while teaching them good habits as they grow.