Nimmi Mistry, a professional services optician at Vision Direct, has sent a warning to parents. 

Although serious vision problems in childhood are rare, if they are apparent enough (even for nonverbal children) parents should notice and have them examined immediately.

As for detecting more common vision problems at an early age, the first vision screening is recommended at ages 4 to 5.

At this time, near-sightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and eye conditions like amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (misaligned eyes) can be diagnosed and treatment can start.

The earlier this happens, the better, as this is the age when children start school and if a child is struggling to see properly, it may affect their learning and development.

The first vision screening is usually organised in schools, but if that’s not the case, then here are a few tips to help.

6 tips to help keep children’s eyes healthy

Parents, unfortunately, can't prevent children from developing genetically inherited eye problems. However, they can encourage good habits to promote visual development and healthy eyes.

     1. Limit screen time

Prolonged screen time can cause digital eye strain in adults. Studies have found that children in the UK spend an average of 6.3 hours in front of screens per day, which can strain the eyes and potentially contribute to vision problems.

To avoid developing computer vision syndrome (a group of eye and vision-related problems stemming from prolonged screen work), set limits on screen time and encourage breaks to rest the eyes following the 20-20-20 rule, which is to look up from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

     2. Encourage outdoor play

We encourage outdoor play for a variety of reasons, including as a break from screen usage. Fixating at distant objects also helps to reduce myopic progression and the intensity of blue light in natural light is lower than that emitted by a screen.

      3. Maintain proper lighting

Ensure there’s enough light in your child’s play and study area, especially when undertaking tasks that require concentration such as writing, drawing and reading.

It's a good idea to provide additional task lighting, such as adjustable desk lamps with a focused beam.

Opt for natural light where possible, as natural light is gentle on the eyes and helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm.

      4. Promote a balanced diet

Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants to maintain eye health. Foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines) and flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in the management of dry eyes.

Recent studies have shown that consuming fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (at least twice a week) reduced the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

They can help protect against dry eyes and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). If your child is a fussy eater and fish is off the menu, you can purchase children’s vitamins which contain Omega-3 from pharmacies and major supermarkets.

Vitamin E can help protect the eyes from free radical damage (unstable molecules that can cause damage to various structures and tissues of the eye, including the lens and retinas). this vitamin can be found in nuts, seeds and spinach.

Vitamin A is also essential for maintaining good vision and a healthy retina. It can be found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and other leafy greens.

Staying hydrated is crucial for overall health, including eye health. Encourage children to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

    5. Protect eyes from the sun

Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause damage to structures of the eye.  Encourage your kids to wear CE-marked sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats when they are outside. UV levels can still be high when it is overcast so be sure to check and take the necessary precautions.

   6. Make sure they are getting enough sleep

Sleep plays a crucial role in allowing the eyes to rest and recover from the strain of daily activities, including prolonged use of digital devices, reading and other visually demanding tasks.

It is recommended that children, depending on their age, get the following amount of sleep:

  • Infants (4-12 months): 12-16 hours per day (including naps).
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours per day (including naps).
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours per day (including naps).
  • School-age children (6-12 years): 9-12 hours per day.

During deep sleep, the eyes rest and produce tears that help keep them lubricated and refreshed. This process is essential for maintaining good eye health and preventing dryness, irritation, and discomfort