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Here are some tips to help your children avoid eye strain and ensure good visual health.

A 2020 study conducted by the University of Cape Town reveals that about 450 000 South African children have problems with their eye sight. Many suffer from eye strain, which is easily prevented.

One prevention is to ensure your children don’t suffer ‘digital’ eye strain over time, especially if they spend long hours staring at computer and mobile device screens for learning and entertainment.

Causes of eye strain

However, digital eye strain is not the only cause, although it is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Existing vision problems such as myopia or astigmatism could be a contributing factor. In addition, poor lighting conditions, environmental factors such as dry air, glare on the screen and poor posture as well as stress and fatigue can all lead to eye strain.

Read our advice on how to achieve perfect posture.

Eye strain can result in discomfort for children and affect their ability to learn whether in the classroom or online.

How to help

Parents should set boundaries around screentime to ensure a balance between online and offline activities.

Look out for these symptoms

Be alert to any of the following visible signs or complaints from your child:

  • tired, dry or sore eyes
  • burning or itchy, watery eyes
  • blurred or double vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating or keeping their eyes ope
  • sore neck, shoulders and/or back
Exercises to relieve their discomfort

Try some of these exercises to help relieve some of their symptoms:

Blinking: When staring at a screen or focusing on a task intently, children tend to blink less Encourage and remind your child to blink regularly to keep the eyes moist. Get them into the habit of closing their eyes tightly for three seconds, then opening the eyes wide and blinking normally a few times. Repeat this process for one minute and at regular interval throughout the day.

Focusing: Hold up a finger about 15cm away from your child’s face and ask them to focus on it. Then, slowly move your finger away while your child remains focusing on it. Next, ask them to look away at an object a few metres 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.

Flexing the eye muscles: This simple exercise helps to keep eye muscles flexible. Have your child sit on a chair, then get them to pick a point on the floor or on a blank wall about 3m away. Now ask them to ‘draw’ an imaginary sideways figure of eight with their eyes. They must not move their head – only the eyes! Do this ‘drawing’ for 30 seconds, then repeat, but ‘drawing’ in the opposite direction, for a further 30 seconds.

Screen breaks: Encourage your child to take regular screen breaks. They must look away from the screen at least every 20 minutes and focus on a distant object for at least 20 seconds. They should also take a regular 10-minute break whereby they get up, move about and stretch. Try to do this at least every two hours.

Find out more about why it is essential to have eye examinations early, the connection between learning and eyesight and children’s vision problems.

General eye care

Visual impairment affects a child’s overall wellbeing and day-to-day functioning, so taking care of your developing child’s vision is important. Regular eye care and routine eye examinations will ensure your children’s eyes are healthy and functioning optimally. And, getting enough sleep at night is important to allow their eyes to rest.