Sunlight may help your child in more ways than we know; for instance, spending 14 hours a week outdoors may cut her risk of needing glasses.
When you see your child staring at a smartphone for hours, it’s easy to worry that she’s hurting her eyesight.
Actually, the best way to protect her eyesight is to make sure she gets sunlight.
Nearsightedness, technically known as myopia, usually sets in during elementary school, and its origins are mainly in the genes.
If Mom and Dad are nearsighted, a child who doesn’t spend much time outdoors runs about a 60 percent chance of needing glasses.
If that same child spends about 14 hours a week in natural light, her chance of needing glasses drops to 20 percent — the same as a child with no near sighted parents.
In other research, around 8 percent of children in an elementary school with an outdoor program at recess became nearsighted over a year, compared to nearly 18 percent of children in a school without outdoor recess.
More sunlight might lead to more vitamin D, helping the eyes, or the light itself could affect how the eyes grow. Monkeys in darker cages are more likely to become nearsighted. Some researchers suggest that sun lamps indoors might be helpful.
You might wonder about children who already wear glasses. Will more sunlight help protect their vision? So far, it seems that time outdoors won’t affect their future prescriptions, researchers report.
Before you usher your children onto the lawn, do make sure they’re wearing sunscreen and sunglasses, to prevent other problems. Also make sure they get regular eye exams. Some kids think their blurry vision is normal, and won’t complain. You’ll first hear about the problem after an eye exam.
Be sure that glasses or undiagnosed myopia isn’t turning your child off sports. Today’s chubby cell-phone-glued kids need to get moving! Glasses don’t have to be a problem — the new prescription sports glasses will stay on. Another option is daily disposable lenses, which don’t have to cleaned every night. Most optometrists approve of giving 12-year-olds lenses, and you could start level-headed children even earlier. A 2017 survey of the research concluded that soft lenses are safe for children as young as eight — causing no more problems for kids than for adults.
You may also hear about new kinds of soft lenses: one type can slow down the progression of near-sightedness and another only needs to be worn at night.
Sunlight is likely to help your child in more ways than we know. There’s evidence, for example, that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is less common in sunny places like Spain, possibly because sunlight affects sleep. Ten to 15 minutes in sunlight without sunscreen a day is a good idea, though you don’t want your child to be sunburned. Many children are short on vitamin D, particularly if they’re dark-skinner or heavy, so feed them cow’s milk, fortified juices, and yogurts and see if they need supplements.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN