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Children’s screen time alarming and eyes paying for it, optometrist says

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Six-year-old Caoimhe Williams is among a growing number of Australian children experiencing digital eye strain thanks to an increase in screen time reported during the pandemic.

The Mount Hutton youngster recently welcomed her first pair of reading glasses, a trend optometrists say is on the rise.

In fact recent studies found that on average children are spending three hours in front of a screen each day – triple the amount of time recommended by the World Health Organisation.

A whopping 86% of parents admit they are concerned about their child’s screen time, 10% more than the same time last year.

Charlestown Specsavers optometrist Haydn Williams says this month’s return to the classroom offered an ideal time to hit the refresh button on screen time. 

“When kids are on phones and computers, it adds a significant demand on close vision, which can cause digital eye strain,” he said.

“Staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time has been shown to increase the risk of myopia or becoming short-sighted. This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. 

“If your child complains about headaches, blurred vision, trouble focusing or any other issues with their eyes, I recommend booking an appointment with an optometrist straight away rather than waiting until their next check-up.” 

Mr Williams says a children’s eye test typically involves looking for signs of refractive error, such as long and shortsightedness and astigmatism. 

“We also assess for signs and symptoms of digital eye strain, such as sore eyes and headaches, as well as other ocular health issues,” he told Newcastle Weekly.

“As children’s eyes are still developing during their schooling years, it’s important to identify any potential issues early so they can be corrected or managed.”

With more than 17 years experience in the industry, Mr Williams says there are a few ways to help maintain a child’s sight.

“Remind your child to blink,” he says. “This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out.

“Keep a bottle of water close-by, your eyes dry out when you’re dehydrated so making sure your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important.

“And follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means, every 20 minutes remind your child to shift their eyes to look at an object at least 20 metres away, for at least 20 seconds. 

“The easiest way to do this is to take small ‘window’ breaks and look out at a faraway object to give their eyes a break from their screen.”

And aside from admiring the outdoors from a window, Mr Williams says getting out in the fresh air can help a child’s eyesight.

“Make sure that during the school week your children spend time playing outside or stepping away from the screen to do another activity to give their eyes a break.”

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