It’s hard to believe that here, in the peak of summer, some school districts will be resuming classes in July, and the rest will go back to school in August. For many students, there may be almost as much demand on their vision when they are off during the summer. With summer preparation requirements for AP and Honors Classes, possibly increased periods of intense video-gaming, or even more extreme summer exposure to sun, wind, and sports—a student’s eyes get a work-out all year long!
Some kids are very astute and recognize vision problems by themselves and ask that their parents take them in for an eye examination. Those patients (or parents of patients) that observe vision problems should have their eyes examined before school starts up in order to be prepared for classroom requirements.
Otherwise, I am an advocate of waiting until a few weeks into the school year to have a child’s eye examination and ocular health assessment—this gives the child some time to see the demands of his classroom, and any areas he may be having trouble. With their experience, teachers may observe if the child is exhibiting signs of eyestrain. The parent may also notice if their child is showing any visible signs of eyestrain. This is also a good time for the eye doctor to remind both parent and child about proper posture at a desk:
- A computer should not be positioned any closer than 20 inches from the student’s eyes—24-26 inches away is best.
- The center of the monitor should be about 4-5 inches LOWER than the line of sight of a straight-forward gaze position.
- Care should be taken to reduce reflective glare off the monitor screen—notice any windows or lights on behind their back that cause distraction from the material content.
- Posture and positioning efficiency are things a parent can observe and guide the student, whether they are sitting at the kitchen table reading a book, or sitting at their desk/workstation with worksheet material, textbooks, computer, and calculator on hand.
- Remind computer users of the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to refocus your eyes to as far a distance as you have available, and move your eyes horizontally and vertically to different extremes in the room while blinking to pump new tears.
It is very important for the student to take as much interest in their eyes, their vision, and their eyewear as possible. Both parents and students need to understand the purpose and function of the glasses. The student needs to participate to find a frame she likes, and that fits well and is comfortable. The more engaged the student is, the more likely they will be excited about their new glasses and therefore more likely to wear them.
The optician will guide the patient through the process and make recommendations about the relationship of the child’s prescription type and strength to the size of the frame. Spectacle frames are now available in a variety of metals and plastics in an array of colors. The nose bridge must fit comfortably—for students with flatter bridges, the frames with individual nose pads that can be adjusted for a custom fit are most practical. The temples should go over and behind the ears enough to provide balanced comfort and keep them firmly planted without sliding down.
The standard lens recommendation at most practices for most patients is a material called Hi-Index plastic, or Polycarbonate. Both of these materials provide the safety of shatter-resistance if an accident or trauma should occur. They are also up to 40% thinner than the old standard plastic that lenses used to be made of and block 100% of ultraviolet light rays.
There is more research ongoing, but there is speculation that the lower wavelength “blue-light” emitted from any of the electronic screens we utilize during an average day can have both irritating and damaging effects on the eyes. There are special anti-reflective coatings that can be applied to the lenses to reduce the transmission of those damaging light rays. Many students like the photochromic lenses that change in the sun (SunSync or Transitions)—they can also be more comfortable under certain types of classroom fluorescent lighting. Most offices offer discounts on Second Pairs for kids, which can be specific for sports or computers and studying or just having a spare pair.
As health care providers, we still observe a high level of allergies in the environment in August. Coach your children NOT to rub their eyes –or if they must, to wash their hands first and just rub the corners a little bit. Eye rubbing is bad mechanically for the central cornea of the eye and can potentially introduce infections. Rubbing the eye usually makes it more inflamed, just like a mosquito bite.
Also encourage your student to get a good night’s sleep. Teenagers require more sleep than they often get, and lack of sleep can make them more susceptible to the distractions of allergies and vision strain. Lack of sleep can also make contact lenses uncomfortable and increase the likelihood of overwearing the lenses and falling asleep with them in. A diet rich in carotenoids is very healthy for the eyes—the more colorful the better! Try to incorporate spinach, carrots, papaya, mangoes, colorful peppers, and berries in their diet, along with fish for a good source of omega fatty acids.
Your eye care practitioner can help make sure your student has all the advantages they can get when they return to school by providing a thorough analysis of his or her visual system and any options for improvement. We can also often provide overall health tips with our knowledge and background of the body’s systems that affect the eyes, and medications with ocular side effects.
Best Wishes to all families approaching that “Back-to-School” transition once again!