Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Christine Allison.  Dr. Allison is an Associate Professor at the Illinois College of Optometry, where she is the Director of the Binocular Vision/Pediatric Residency Program.  Dr. Allison currently serves on COVD’s Board of Directors.

One of the most common questions I hear from parents is, “How can I prevent my children from needing glasses?” or “How can I prevent their eyes from getting worse?”  This is a question that haunts vision researchers on a daily basis.  There is no question that populations worldwide are seeing an increase in nearsightedness.  Many studies have looked at the increased use of near work such as increased reading, computer use, and texting to be the blame for this problem.  While these activities definitely increase the need for the focusing system to be working overtime, a clear link for the development of nearsightedness to these activities has yet to be established.

The question of genetics has also been looked at in many studies.  A recent study of Sinapore Chinese preschool children published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology showed agreement with many other studies that children with two nearsighted parents have a much greater risk of being nearsighted than those with one or no nearsighted parents.   Also, children with even one nearsighted parent have a much greater risk of needing glasses than those children whose parents are not nearsighted.  Thus there seems to be a definite genetic component to the question of “Will my child need glasses?”

Recently though, some exciting new studies have come out that show that children who spend more time on outdoor activities have less nearsightedness than those who spend more time indoors.  Time spent outdoors on leisure activities such as playing in the backyard or at a park, or taking a walk around the neighborhood were compared to sporting activities both outdoors and indoors.  It was found that time outdoors, rather than specifically playing sports, was the factor that was the most important in preventing the development and progression of nearsightedness in school-aged children.  The reason for this is not clear yet, but many researchers believe that the increased light levels outdoors versus indoors are an important factor.  The significantly increased levels of light intensity when a child is outdoors may cause a decrease in a chemical in the brain that causes eye growth (nearsighted eyes are longer), or the smaller pupil size when outdoors may cause a larger depth of field and thus less blur (which could stimulate nearsightedness to develop).

Thus, we now have good reason to send our children outdoors more!  Not only will the increased time outdoors give them a chance to increase their physical activity to prevent childhood obesity, it may also work to prevent them from needing glasses!  So, it is time to tell our patients and their children “To go fly a kite!” and mean it!