By now we all know the benefits of kids playing outside: The physical activity, exposure to vitamin D, as well as the development of thinking, motor, and social skills, and even stress reduction. But did you ever think it could improve your kids’ vision?
What is myopia?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines myopia, commonly referred to as “nearsightedness,” as “an eye focusing disorder in which close objects look clear, but distant objects appear blurred.” It is the No. 1 reason kids need glasses. Myopia usually occurs in school-age children right around the onset of puberty, and generally slows or stops progressing in the mid to late teens. About 30 percent of the U.S. population has myopia.
While it’s believed to be an inherited condition, the progression of myopia can actually be affected by the way people use their eyes. Those who spend a lot of time reading, working at a computer, or performing other very close visual work may be more likely to develop myopia.
What are the symptoms of myopia?
Some telltale symptoms to look out for in your children include:
- being unable to see objects at a distance
- having trouble reading the blackboard
- difficulty reading
- sitting too close to the TV
Starting at the age of 3, kids should have their vision screened during a well visit with their pediatrician. However, if symptoms start to arise for vision problems, talk to your child’s doctor and schedule an appointment with an eye doctor. Once a child begins wearing eye glasses or contact lenses, it’s important to get annual exams with an eye doctor.
How is myopia treated?
The most common treatment for myopia is the use of glasses or contact lenses. Contact lenses can be a great option for active kids — such as ballplayers or gymnasts — who are involved in activities where glasses may get in the way. As parents, you’re the best judge of whether your child is ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses.
What are some common myopia myths?
Despite what you may have heard, wearing glasses does not make the eyes more dependent on them. In other words, glasses will correct a child’s vision — they will not make a child’s vision worse.
And while we’re dispelling myths, eating lots of carrots does provide great vitamins and anti-oxidants, but it will not prevent or slow down myopia.
Can myopia be lessened or cured?
Although there is no cure for myopia, a couple of treatments have been proven to help slow its progression:
This is a solution that temporarily paralyzes the eyes’ ability to focus. A study done in Singapore, where more than 70 percent of kids have myopia by the time they reach college age, has shown that using atropine drops one to three times per week will slow myopia’s progression. But it’s important to stress that there are side effects and health experts don’t yet know the long-term effects of using atropine. Discuss its use with your eye doctor.
Which, finally, brings us back to outdoor play. A study done in China found that children who received 40 more minutes of outdoor play each school day were 23 percent less likely to develop myopia three years later, compared to kids who didn’t receive the extra time outside. What’s so extraordinary about this study is that when it was replicated in Australia — a totally different population, culture, and environment — the results were the same. The critical piece to these results isn’t so much what kids do outside, but the total time they are outside during daylight hours.
Researchers don’t know why outdoor play has this effect on kids’ vision. But the hope is that future studies will pinpoint what it is about outdoor play that helps keep kids’ vision in focus.
In the meantime, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) already encourages limiting children’s screen time and giving them more opportunities for active play and exercise, including outdoor play. Now, you have yet one more reason to insist your kids “take it outside.”