The Importance of Eye Care from Childhood and Beyond

Decades ago, you may remember walking down your elementary school hallway and into a library, lunchroom, or empty classroom to stand in front of an eye chart reading off large-print, single letters to an adult who was there to test your vision. Vision screening is required in 40 states across the U.S., and for good reason.1 One of the body’s five senses, sight remains an important factor in a child’s ability to learn and an adult’s capacity to operate daily without added disruption. Since around one in four school-age children are affected by vision problems2, which often begin at an early age, eye screenings and an overall attention to eye care is crucial to eye health and overall health as we age.

 

Though in-school eye exams shouldn’t be equated to the quality of an exam you’ll get at an optometrist’s office, the prevalence of them in schools should signal the importance of checking in on eye health regularly. Just like with any disease, illness, or injury, catching any deficiencies sooner rather than later is always better. Identifying eye problems in children when they’re young is important so you can correct those issues as soon as possible. Examples such as amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (crossed eyes), and droopy eyelids can be treated if found early enough and can help prevent long-term complications.

 

Other common eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma can all develop with age but don’t have early symptoms to clue you in to their reality. Later symptoms of these diseases include loss of central vision and blurry or wavy areas in your central vision. Without treatment, these diseases can lead to low vision or blindness if not caught soon enough.3 Many eye conditions can be slowed or effectively managed if identified and addressed early on — which, since you won’t be able to detect them if you don’t have symptoms, signals the importance of routine exams.

 

The American Optometric Association has general guidelines for how often to have eye examinations. For those asymptomatic or low risk, it recommends the first eye exam at 6-12 months, then once between 3-5 years old, then annually until adult age. From 18-64 it recommends eye exams at least every two years, and once you hit 65, annual exams are suggested. Those at-risk, with a personal or family history, or with any eye disease-related symptoms should be checked more frequently.4  

 

Along with routine screenings and eye exams and watching out for symptoms of eye-related diseases, preventive measures in other areas are important to staying on top of eye care.

  • Athletes should take proper precautions to avoid eye injuries during sports. Wear safety goggles that are ASTM F803 approved when participating in racquet sports, as they’re able to withstand the high impact of objects that may come in contact with them during play. Batting helmets with face shields are important for youth baseball and softball players while helmets with full face shields can help hockey players avoid serious injury.5
  • Wear sunglasses outside. To protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays, wear sunglasses outside to filter that light. According to Prevent Blindness, conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or skin cancer around the eyelids can result from long-term exposure to UV rays. When you’re around places that will have an increased effect because of the sun’s reflection, like while skiing or at the beach, opt for sunglasses with a darker tint to make up for that extra reflection. Choose sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B rays.6 Take care of sunglasses, prescription glasses, and other eye wear with cleaners that will keep your bespectacled vision free of debris.
  • Limit screen time and blue light. With the increase in the prevalence of digital devices and screen time in the last decade or so, we’re all in the presence of screens a lot more than we used to be. From a computer-heavy workforce to the commonality of cell phones to tablets becoming a distraction technique for children, our daily viewing times have skyrocketed. To help combat effects of screen time, try sitting far enough away from devices, adjust screen brightness, use blue light-blocking filters, and make sure to blink enough and avert your gaze away from the screen. An easy practice to remember is the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes of looking at a device, avert your eyes to a spot at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This can help alleviate eye strain and discomfort. Also, power down devices an hour or two before bedtime as blue light can suppress melatonin production and affect circadian rhythms.

 

In addition to protecting your eyes from outside elements, take a moment to think of how you’re treating your eyes from an internal perspective. Eye care isn’t only about what you wear to protect your eyes, but to how you’re treating the health of your eyes as part of your overall health.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Foods like fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, orange-colored vegetables and fruits with vitamin A, and leafy vegetables are healthy for your eyes.7
  • Maintain health conditions and get regular exercise. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all can lead to eye or vision problems. Not only will exercise help maintain these conditions, it will then indirectly decrease your risk of developing the eye problems that follow as a result of those conditions.8
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking increases the risk of developing several eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma.9
  • Be aware of your risk factors and family history. There’s a higher risk of developing eye diseases as we age, so knowing your personal risk factors and working with your eye doctor to get in front of those potential risks is important. Family history is important to know as some eye diseases are inherited.8

 

 

Around 93 million Americans are at high risk for vision loss, 11 million aged 13 and older need some kind of vision correction,10 and over four million who are at least 40 years old are “either legally blind or are with low vision in the better-seeing eye,”3 so make regular eye exams as routine as going to the medical doctor or dentist. Don’t wait until you need glasses to get your eyes checked out. Without early detection and intervention, eye diseases can appear to come on suddenly and worsen quickly. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent vision loss. Add to your quality of life as you age and help yourself continue to take part in activities like reading, driving, sports, and having an overall appreciation for the beauty around you. Healthy habits like preventative eye care can help preserve your health and have long-term benefits as you age.

 

 

References

  1. Prevent Blindness. Analysis of School-Age Vision Screening by State. https://preventblindness.org/vision-screening-requirements-by-state/
  2. Prevent Blindness. Your Child’s Sight. https://preventblindness.org/your-babys-developing-sight/
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/index.html
  4. American Optometric Association. Comprehensive eye exams. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/caring-for-your-eyes/eye-exams?sso=y
  5. Prevent Blindness. Your Sight — Preventing Eye Injuries. https://preventblindness.org/sports-eye-safety/
  6. Prevent Blindness. Your Sight — Protect Your Eyes from the Sun. https://preventblindness.org/choosing-uv-protection/
  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. 36 Fabulous Foods to Boost Eye Health. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/fabulous-foods-your-eyes
  8. MedlinePlus Eye Care. https://medlineplus.gov/eyecare.html
  9. New York State Department of Health. Smoking Can Lead to Vision Loss or Blindness. https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/tobacco_control/smoking_can_lead_to_vision_loss_or_blindness.htm
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep an Eye on Your Vision Health. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/resources/features/keep-eye-on-vision-health.html

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