Given that screen time is almost unavoidable these days, it’s no surprise myopia (short-sightedness) levels are on the up. In fact, China has the highest rates of myopia amongst children; according to a white paper on eye health, 53.6 percent of kids in China have myopia before entering high school. But there are things we can do to help prevent it.
From the importance of early detection to long-term protection, here Deputy Chief Physician of Ophthalmology at Wellem Zeng Rui, Ophthalmologist at Shanghai East Hospital Lin Fangyu, and ophthalmologist at Shanghai United Family Hospital Cindy Wang share their insights.
Check your kid’s eyesight frequently
A child’s deteriorating eyesight often goes unnoticed until it’s bad because kids lack the vocabulary to describe their feelings. There are signs to look for, like you may find kids sitting closer to the TV, squinting frequently at the screen or tilting their heads a lot.
However, Dr Zeng believes there’s a more accurate and earlier detection method. That is, parents with normal visual acuity (with or without glasses) can point to an object or a road sign and see if their kids can see it clearly. ‘Do it frequently from the same distance over a period of time,’ explains Zeng, ‘If the kids could see well before but not now, then parents should take them to see an optometrist immediately.’
In terms of how often kids should have their eyes tested, Dr Wang recommends a routine eye check every six months for preschoolers and three months for kids of school age.
Increase outdoor playtime
One misconception is that the sun is harmful to human eyes. That's only partially true – having sufficient daylight is essential for eye development. ‘Any activity in the open air is good for kids, even reading,’ says Zeng. ‘Kindergarten-aged kids should get at least three hours outdoor playtime and primary school kids two hours.’
When kids are indoors, which is where they spend most of their time these days, Dr Lin emphasises its important to have 'reasonable ambient light and a proper sitting posture when you read or write.’
Photograph: courtesy Wellem Medical Group
Wang advises trying to stop kids rubbing eyes when they feel itchy as, she explains, ‘Rubbing eyes may cause eye infection, cornea injury, astigmatism and myopia progress.’ Lin also explains that good hand-washing habits will help reduce the risk of infection when kids do touch their eyes.
Set a limit on screen time
While it is pretty much impossible to prevent your kids from using any electronic devices, limiting screen time is key. For Zeng, smartphones are a no-go for kids under 13 years old, ‘The screen on a smartphone is simply too small and kids are bound to lean too close to the screen.’ When it comes to an iPad or laptop, Zeng recommends intervals of ten minutes for kids aged two to three years, 20 minutes for preschoolers and 30 minutes for primary students. ‘You can add 10-15 minutes if it’s TV,’ she adds.
Photograph: courtesy Shanghai East International Medical Centre
Build an eye health record for your kids
According to Zeng, the earliest eye check can be done for a baby is when they turn six months old. You then have to wait until the baby is two-and-half years and, it’s suggested, no later than three years, to do a thorough eye check. That’s when you start to build an eye health record for your kiddo. ‘Most refractive errors, including myopia, amblyopia and strabismus require lengthy clinical observation,’ explains Zeng, ‘so it is better to have an ophthalmological record on hand for a more accurate diagnosis.’
Venue details: Wellem Medical Group (Gubei Clinic), 199 Fugui Dong Lu, near Huangjincheng Dao. Multiple locations around town.
Venue details: Shanghai East International Medical Center (SEIMC), 23th Floor and 24th Floor, Building B, 551 Pudong Nan Lu, near Pudong Dadao.
Venue details: Shanghai United Family, 1598 Xinjinqiao Lu, near Donglu Lu.