Don’t be ‘short-sighted’

Blog post by Maggs Hancock, Community Orthoptist

“EYE” do not know where the time has gone!! It’s National Eye Health Week (Monday 19 to Sunday 25 September) once again.

Did you know …? It’s estimated that by the year 2050 more than half of us will be MYOPIC or short-sighted (struggling to see in the distance) with levels having doubled since 1960. The number of people suffering HIGH levels of myopia is also on the increase. We, as Community Orthoptists have noticed this shift. When I first started “Orthoptic -ing” (30 odd years ago!!!) it was rare to have a child under 7 who was short- sighted.

In the last few years these numbers have increased significantly (our department are in the process of collecting statistics re this as it is so noticeable). This is of great concern because high myopia is linked to sight-threatening conditions, such as:

  • Retinal Detachment – where the light sensitive ‘film’ lining the back of the eye pulls away from its base, causing distorted vision or blindness depending on its location
  • Myopic Macular Degeneration – loss of central vision clarity, like having a thick smudge permanently in the middle of your vision
  • Glaucoma – disease of the optic nerve which damages peripheral vision, called the ‘sneak thief of sight’ as very few people who have it notice its symptoms until it is very advanced
  • Cataract – a cloudy window in the middle of the eye, like looking through a foggy windscreen that impacts vision and therefore quality of life.

But it seems there are many factors linked to our modern living that could be a reason as to why rates are rising so significantly.

The way our children play / learn/ communicate is changing. With handheld devices more popular and the programmes on a constant loop – most kids cannot tear themselves away from the hypnotic effect. If you try to remove the device, they experience withdrawal symptoms of crying and tantrums. I’ve experienced this in the clinic – kids specially the babes go hysterical if you try and remove the device to carry out an Orthoptic assessment.

It appears that this may be one of the causes of the increase in myopia. Parents often ask about what is a safe screen time for their children. Well, we’ve devised a leaflet (extranet login required to view) about what the research suggests.

This advice is to stop the eyes from getting too tired while you are using a handheld devise. The advice is:

  • Look away from your screen every 20minutes
  • Try to find something that is 20 feet away
  • Look at it for 20 seconds

So how can we reduce this risk of myopia!!??

Well, increasing the time children spend outdoors is a protective factor for myopia onset and this is thought (at least in part) to be because it increases the intensity of natural light the eye is exposed to.

A recent review combining the results of 25 studies found that children who spent about an extra 1 1⁄4 hours per day outdoors reduced their risk of developing myopia by half.

The total time spent outdoors seems to be the crucial factor, the nature of the outdoor activity does not seem to be important.

So how do we convince our kids to be kids again and encourage them to go out and play? Here are some great ideas that have been put forward.

Go on a Garden Bug Hunt

Try counting how many different species of creatures you can find hiding in your garden or the park. Grab a magnifying glass to take a closer look – how many legs has the bug got? Is it hairy? Draw pictures of what you find and create a colourful gallery of minibeasts. There is an exciting miniature world out there!!

Cook up a Feast in a Mud Kitchen

How many of you remember this when you were young? My siblings and I loved this pasttime. Its great fun and all you need to make a basic mud kitchen are some old pots and pans, a couple of spoons, a patch of earth or bucket of mud and water.

Kids can while away hours getting messy, mixing up mud pies and foraging for decorative toppings.

Grow your Own

Nothing tases better than fruit and veg you’ve grown yourself so whether you sew a few cress seeds in a used eggshells or created your very own garden allotment you can enjoy the tasty rewards of time spent outdoors tending to your crops.

I still get a buzz seeing the cress sprouting!!

Enjoy a Bike Ride

Whether you’re going for a ride around your local park or travelling along part of the 13,500 miles that make up the National Cycle Network, cycling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Great way to spend time as a family too!

Go to the National Cycle Network website for more details.

Create Patio Art

Encourage your budding Van Gogh to get creative and produce a giant artwork on your patio or garden path. Use chalks to create colourful designs that will simply get washed away in the rain.

Role Play

Make action dice from cube-shaped cardboard boxes.

Draw or write a forfeit or action on each side of the cardboard box e.g., do a Roly Poly, jump like a frog, run a lap of the garden, find 4 different shaped leaves etc… (use your imagination!)

Then, roll or throw the dice and follow the action.

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are great fun, and you can play them almost anywhere. Try a colour- themed hunt and track down objects from every colour in the rainbow.

Build a Den

Whether you’re creating a den using cushions and blankets or branches and bracken – den building is fun for all the family. You can then enjoy a picnic outdoors.

Go Birdwatching

Go for a walk and see how many different types of birds you can spot.

The RSPB website has a great step-by-step guide to birdwatching for beginners.

Nature Craft

Make a self-portrait using materials you can find in your garden or local park.

Use, sticks, leaves, berries, stones, grass cuttings, feathers, conkers and moss to create your masterpiece.

Puddle Jumping (Great fun for kids of ALL ages!)

Don’t let the rain put you off!!! Get out whatever the weather. Pull on your wellies and go splash about in puddles.

Not only will it be a fun way to help reduce the increase of myopia but be beneficial for you and your child’s wellbeing too.

Go on give it a go…….

Well, I hope you’ve all been looking after your eyes?

Because remember your VISION MATTERS.

Find out more about the Community Orthoptic Service here.

Further reading