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Here’s how to help your kids avoid eye strain

‘Digital eye strain’ is becoming more prevalent. Picture: Debbie Yazbek/ANA Pics

‘Digital eye strain’ is becoming more prevalent. Picture: Debbie Yazbek/ANA Pics

Published Feb 2, 2022

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Are carrots a lunchtime snack you’ve thought about packing into your child’s lunch box in-between all the back-to-school craziness?

If not, it’s a healthy snack to consider! You’ve probably heard that carrots promote healthy eyes and good vision, and it’s true. Carrots are high in the antioxidant beta-carotene — and that’s a start, but it takes a whole lot more to protect your growing child’s irreplaceable vision.

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‘Digital eye strain’ is becoming more prevalent. Therefore, it’s important to remember that there are other causes of eye strain. Pre-existing vision problems such as myopia or astigmatism could be the reason why a child struggles visually, as can lighting conditions (too bright or too dim), stress, fatigue, dry air, and even extended periods of reading.

Setting boundaries will help a child balance time spent on their screens, reading, learning, and playtime.

Eye strain can be an uncomfortable and often debilitating experience for children, affecting their mental and physical wellbeing as well as their ability to learn and focus in the classroom. However, children don’t have to suffer from eye strain, and there are ways that you, as a parent or guardian, can help.

Symptoms to look out for: your child complains of their eyes feeling tired, dry and sore, burning or itchy, watery eyes, blurred or double vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, difficulty concentrating or keeping their eyes open, a sore neck, shoulders and/or back.

You can also try the following exercises to help relieve some of their symptoms:

Encourage them to blink

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We tend to blink less while we’re staring at a screen or focusing intently on a task. Observe your child’s behaviour while they engage in screen time or any other task, and remind them to blink more to encourage moisture in the eyes.

Do this with them every day: close the eyes tightly for three seconds. Then, open the eyes wide and blink normally a few times. Repeat this process for one minute.

Shift their focus

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Hold your finger about 15cm away from your child’s face and get them to focus on it. Slowly move your finger away, but your child must still focus on it. Ask them to look away from your finger at an object that is a few meters behind you for a few seconds and then back at your finger. Slowly bring your finger towards their face again. Repeat this exercise at least three times.

Figure eight

This simple exercise should help to keep eye muscles flexible. Get your child to sit down in a chair or on the couch. While seated, ask them to pick a point on the floor or on a blank wall about 3 metres away. Tell them to ‘draw’ an imaginary sideways figure ‘8’ with their eyes without moving their head. Do this for 30 seconds and then repeat for another 30 seconds in the opposite direction.

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Step away

Take screen breaks or limit the amount of time your child spends engaged in an all-encompassing task, opting for playtime outdoors or any other activity that allows them to rest their eyes. It’s also very important for children to get enough sleep every night to give their eyes a good, long rest.

Regular eye care can ensure your child has a healthy vision for life. It’s important to schedule routine eye examinations for your children to ensure that their eyes are healthy and developing as they should. Check with your medical aid to confirm the optometry benefits offered.

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