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Eye Care Awareness Month is commemorated from 21 September to 18 October to raise awareness about the importance of eye care health. 

It has been reported that 75% of all cases of blindness are avoidable either through prevention or through treatment – which is why it is important to get your eyes tested.

In this edition of wellness, we share insights on how to take care of your child’s eyes, when and how often you should be visiting the optometrist, and red flags to look out for in your child’s eyes. 

Vision Impairment 

Optometrist Tsietsi Nkhumishe explains that vision impairment refers to all types of vision loss, usually not correctable by devices like spectacles, contact lenses, medications or through surgery.

‘’Blindness falls into that category too under a different umbrella i.e from totally blind to legally blind (Legally blind is a term that the government uses to describe a person with vision below a certain measurement). Categories of visual impairment are extremely important in placing children in appropriate schools, and in accessing social grants, etc,’’ says Nkhumishe.

Nkhumishe elaborates that genetic inheritance contributes to up to 60% of visual impairment in children. 

‘’One of the most prevalent is ROP – Retinopathy of prematurity, which is found in births where babies are born before full term (before 31 weeks) gestation, the retina at that stage hasn’t fully matured. It’s more prevalent in multiple births, and those kids will be seen by an ophthalmologist at birth and properly diagnosed and followed up accordingly as they grow,’’ adds Nkhumishe.

Red Flags Of Vision Impairment

Babies should be seen by an eye care professional at 6 months old – especially when the parents suspect a problem exists and the practitioners will advise according to the screening results. 

‘’Screening for babies is completely different from testing teens and adults. We mainly want to establish vision, the quality thereof, the difference between the two eyes, and milestone related problems. The babies we often see are those considered to have a squint or eye turning/rotation as this is a more obvious concern for any parent,’’ states Nkhumishe. 

She also advises parents to look out for head tilts and closing of one eye when focusing or in the sun. It is advisable to get sunglasses for your children because sunglasses are for everyone, not just adults.

Living in the digital age comes with digitally-influenced problems. Our children are spending a lot of time with devices in their hands and in front of the television. 

‘’Screen time can lead to disturbance in sleep patterns, can cause spasms in the muscles of the eyes which work in focusing at near i.e. accommodation (this is the ability to adjust the focus of the eyes as the distance between the individual and the object changes), and screen time might induce the rate of myopia (short-sightedness),’’ warns Nkhumishe. 

How To Manage Screen Time For Your Child’s Eyecare 

Nkhumishe briefly takes us through how you can manage your child’s screen time for the betterment of their eyecare. 

  • We are all fascinated with how quickly babies can operate a gadget – it is sadly not an achievement. As parents we need to take control and limit our kids to an HOUR A DAY for tablets and cell phones.
  • Distract them by spending time with them by taking a walk. The sun is good for them and you. It is regarded as a happy pill. 
  • The distance between the smartphone and your child’s eyes is important. It is referred to as ‘Harmon distance’. How it’s done: a) make a fist. b) place it under your chin. c) extend your elbow in front of you – that’s the minimum distance your gadget should be from your eyes.
    For those who are learning online, it’s important to take breaks. It is referred to as the 20-20-20 Rule. How that works is, with every 20 minutes on your pc, shut your eyes for 20 seconds and look 20 feet away (6 meters or more). That will assist in reducing fatigue. Don’t forget to blink! 
  • Older kids who are into YouTube, Tiktok, etc. Nkhumishe’s advice is that you should purchase a SMART TV, that way they will be watching these at a distance of 3 to 5 meters from the screen, and their eyes are more relaxed. 
  • IF ALL FAILS – purchase a pair of blue block lenses from your optometrist, these block out 420nm wavelength of light which will assist in fatigue and improve sleep patterns.

Please note: blue block only is not advisable to use outside in the sun, speak to your optometrist on what to add to the blue block to protect your kids fully. 

Lastly…

Nkhumishe states that parents should visit the optometrist when their children are 6 months old and between 1 to 2 years, then between 3 to 5 years. You will be advised on follow ups depending on what the outcome of the screening is.

A well balanced diet is also extremely important for your children’s eyes. Teach them when they are still young. Kids will mimic you as the parent, they will eat what you eat. 

Optometrist Tsietsi Nkhumishe practices in Pretoria and Mpumalanga, reach her on www.tsnoptom.co.za