Are Contact Lenses a Good Choice for Kids?
Contact lenses can offer several benefits over other forms of vision correction for kids. But a common question many parents have is: “When is my child old enough to wear contact lenses?”
Physically, your child’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age. In fact, some babies are fitted with contact lenses due to eye conditions present at birth. And in a recent study that involved fitting nearsighted children ages 8-11 with one-day disposable contact lenses, 90% had no trouble applying or removing the contacts without assistance from their parents.
A Matter of Maturity
The important question to ask yourself is whether your child is mature enough to insert, remove and take care of their contact lenses. How they handle other responsibilities at home will give you a clue. If your child has poor grooming habits and needs frequent reminders to perform everyday chores, they may not be ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses. But if they are conscientious and handle these things well, they may be excellent candidates for contact lens wear, regardless of their age.
Contact Lenses for Sports
Many kids are active in sports. Contact lenses offer several advantages over glasses for these activities. Contacts don’t fog up, get streaked with perspiration or get knocked off like glasses can. They also provide better peripheral vision than glasses, which is important for nearly every sport. There are even contact lenses with special tints to help your child see the ball easier.
For sports, soft contact lenses are usually the best choice. They are larger and fit closer to the eye than rigid gas permeable (GP) lenses, so there’s virtually no chance they will dislodge or get knocked off during competition.
If your young son or daughter is nearsighted, rigid gas permeable (GP) contacts may be a good choice. GP lenses are more durable and often provide sharper vision than soft contacts.
A modified technique of fitting gas permeable lenses — called orthokeratology or “ortho-k” — can reverse myopia temporarily. Kids put their ortho-K lenses in at night and wear them while they’re sleeping. In the morning, when the lenses are removed, nearsighted kids should be able to see clearly without lenses of any kind.
Researchers also are finding that multifocal soft contact lenses may be effective for myopia control. Multifocal contacts are special lenses that have different powers in different zones of the lens.
Building Self-Esteem with Contact Lenses
Contact lenses can do wonders for some children’s self-esteem. Many kids don’t like the way they look in glasses and become overly self-conscious about their appearance because of them. Wearing contact lenses can often elevate how they feel about themselves and improve their self-confidence. Sometimes, even school performance and participation in social activities improve after kids switch to contact lenses.
Glasses Are Still Required
If your child chooses to wear contact lenses, they still need an up-to-date pair of eyeglasses. Contact lenses worn on a daily basis should be removed at least an hour before bedtime to allow the eyes to breathe. Also, there will be times when your child may want to wear their glasses instead of contact lenses. And contact lenses should be removed immediately anytime they cause discomfort or eye redness.
Don’t Push Contacts on Your Kids
Motivation is often the most important factor in determining whether your son or daughter will be a successful contact lens wearer. If you wear contact lenses yourself and love them, that still doesn’t mean they are the right choice for your child. Some children like wearing glasses and have no desire to wear contact lenses.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. Often, a child may feel they don’t want contacts, but a year or two later, they do.
Article ©2015 Access Media Group LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction other than for one-time personal use is strictly prohibited.
Children’s Vision FAQs
How often should children have their eyes examined?
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age. After that, kids should have routine eye exams at age 3 and again at age 5 or 6 (just before they enter kindergarten or the first grade).
For school-aged children, the AOA recommends an eye exam every two years if no vision correction is needed. Children who need eyeglasses or contact lenses should be examined annually.
My 5-year-old daughter just had a vision screening at school and she passed. Does she still need an eye exam?
Yes. School vision screenings are designed to detect gross vision problems. But kids can pass a screening at school and still have vision problems that can affect their learning and school performance. In fact, studies have found that up to 11 percent of children who pass a vision screening actually have a vision problem that needs treatment. A comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist can detect vision problems that a school screening may miss. Also, a comprehensive eye exam includes an evaluation of your child’s eye health, which is not part of a school vision screening.
What is vision therapy?
Vision therapy (also called vision training) is like physical therapy for the visual system. It involves an individualized program of eye exercises designed to correct vision problems, such as amblyopia (“lazy eye”), eye movement and alignment problems, focusing problems, and certain visual-perceptual disorders. Vision therapy is not designed to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. Vision therapy is usually performed in an optometrist’s office, but most treatment plans also include daily vision exercises to be performed at home.
Can vision therapy cure learning disabilities?
No, vision therapy cannot correct learning disabilities. However, children with learning disabilities often have vision problems as well. Vision therapy can correct underlying vision problems that may be contributing to a child’s learning problems.
Our active 1-year-old boy needs glasses to correct his farsightedness and the tendency for his eyes to cross. But he pulls them off the second they go on. We’ve tried an elastic band, holding his arms, tape… He just struggles and cries. How do we get him to wear his glasses?
In most cases, it just takes awhile for a toddler to get used to the sensation of wearing glasses. So persistence is the key. Also, you may want to put his glasses on as soon as he wakes up – this will usually help him adapt to the glasses easier.
But it’s also a good idea to recheck the prescription and make sure his glasses were made correctly and are fitting properly. Today, there are many styles of frames for young children, including some that come with an integrated elastic band to help keep them comfortably on the child’s head. Bring your son and the eyewear to our office. Even if you didn’t purchase the glasses from us, we will be happy to give you our opinion about why your son is having a tough time wearing them and what you can do about it.
Our 3-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with strabismus and amblyopia. What is the likelihood of a cure at this age?
With proper treatment, the odds are very good. Many researchers believe the visual system can still develop better visual acuity up to about age 8 to 10. If your daughter’s eye turn (strabismus) is constant, it’s likely surgery will be necessary to straighten her eyes in order for her therapy for amblyopia (or “lazy eye”) to be successful. Strabismus surgery often is followed by eye patching and vision therapy (also called orthoptics) to help both eyes work together as a team. See a pediatric ophthalmologist who specializes in strabismus surgery for more information.
My daughter (age 10) is farsighted and has been wearing glasses since age 2. We think she may have problems with depth perception. How can she be tested for this, and if there is a problem, can it be treated?
We can perform a very simple stereopsis test to determine if your daughter has normal depth perception. In this test, she wears “3-D glasses” and looks at a number of objects in a special book or on a chart across the room. If she has reduced stereopsis, a program of vision therapy may help improve her depth perception.
We have an 11-year-old son who first became nearsighted when he was 7. Every year, his eyes get worse. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this?
A number of recent studies suggest it may be possible to slow myopia progression, or even reverse it, during childhood. Currently, four types of treatment are showing promise for controlling myopia: atropine eye drops, multifocal contact lenses, orthokeratology (“ortho-k”) and multifocal eyeglasses. A comprehensive examination will help determine which of these options might help the individual needs of your son.
My 7-year-old son’s teacher thinks he has “convergence insufficiency.” What is this, and what can I do about it?
Convergence insufficiency (CI) is a common learning-related vision problem where a person’s eyes don’t stay comfortably aligned when they are reading or doing close work. For reading and other close-up tasks, our eyes need to be pointed slightly inward (converged). A person with convergence insufficiency has a tough time doing this, which leads to eyestrain, headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and reading problems. Usually, a program of vision therapy can effectively treat CI and reduce or eliminate these problems. Sometimes, special reading glasses can also help.
My son is 5 years old and has 20/40 vision in both eyes. Should I be concerned, or could this improve with time?
Usually, 5-year-olds can see 20/25 or better. But keep in mind that visual acuity testing is a subjective matter – during the test, your child is being asked to read smaller and smaller letters on a wall chart. Sometimes, kids give up at a certain line on the chart when they can actually read smaller letters. Other times, they may say they can’t read smaller letters because they want glasses. (Yes, this happens!) Also, if your son had his vision tested at a school screening (where there can be plenty of distractions), it’s a good idea to schedule a comprehensive eye exam to rule out nearsightedness, astigmatism or an eye health problem that may be keeping him from having better visual acuity.
My daughter has been diagnosed with refractive amblyopia due to severe farsightedness in one eye. She just got her glasses, and the lens for her bad eye is much thicker than the other lens. She complains that the glasses make her dizzy, and she refuses to wear them. Can anything be done about this?
In situations like this, where one eye needs a much stronger correction than the other, contact lenses are a better option. With glasses, the unequal lens powers cause an unequal magnification effect, so the two eyes form images in the brain that are different in size. This can cause nausea and dizziness because the brain may not be able to blend the two separate images into a single, three-dimensional one. And, of course, the glasses will be unattractive because one lens will be much thicker than the other.
Even if your child is quite young, she can probably handle contact lens wear. Contact lenses don’t cause the differences in image magnification that glasses do. Continuous wear lenses (worn day and night for up to 30 days, then discarded) or one-day disposable lenses may be good options.
Keep in mind that amblyopia is a condition where one eye doesn’t see as well as the other, even with the best possible correction lens in place. Simply wearing the contacts may not improve the vision in her weak eye. Usually a program of vision therapy will also be needed.
Article ©2015 Access Media Group LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction other than for one-time personal use is strictly prohibited.
Controlling Nearsightedness in Children
Myopia (nearsightedness) is a common vision problem affecting children who can see well up close, while distant objects are blurred. Nearsighted children tend to squint to see distant objects such as the board at school. They also tend to sit closer to the television to see it more clearly.
Sometimes, childhood myopia can worsen year after year. This change can be disconcerting to both children and their parents, prompting the question: “Will it ever stop? Or, will this get so bad that, someday, glasses won’t help?”
Myopia that develops in childhood nearly always stabilizes by age 20. But by then, some kids have become very nearsighted, leading scientists to search for ways to slow down the progression of myopia in children. Four possible treatments that show promise include orthokeratology (“ortho-k”), atropine eye drops, multifocal eyeglasses, and soft multifocal contact lenses.
Orthokeratology, or “ortho-k,” is the use of specially designed gas permeable contact lenses to flatten the shape of the cornea and thereby reduce or correct mild to moderate amounts of nearsightedness. The lenses are worn during sleep and removed in the morning. Though temporary eyeglasses may be required during the early stages of ortho-k, many people with low to moderate amounts of myopia can see well without glasses or contact lenses during the day after wearing the corneal reshaping lenses at night.
Recent research suggests ortho-k may also reduce the lengthening of the eye itself, indicating that wearing ortho-k lenses during childhood may actually cause a permanent reduction in myopia, even if the lenses are discontinued in adulthood.
Topical atropine is a medicine used to dilate the pupil and temporarily paralyze accommodation and completely relax the eyes’ focusing mechanism. Because research has suggested nearsightedness in children may be linked to focusing fatigue, investigators have looked into using atropine to disable the eye’s focusing mechanism to control myopia.
The results of these studies have been impressive. However, additional research has shown that the myopia control effect from atropine does not continue after the first year of treatment, and that short-term use of atropine may not control nearsightedness significantly in the long run.
Some evidence suggests wearing eyeglasses with bifocal or progressive multifocal lenses may slow the progression of nearsightedness in some children. The mechanism here appears to be that the added magnifying power in these lenses reduces focusing fatigue during reading and other close work, a problem that may contribute to increasing myopia.
A five-year study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science produced an interesting result involving nearsighted children whose mother and father were also nearsighted. These children, who wore eyeglasses with progressive multifocal lenses during the course of the study, had less progression of their myopia than similar children who wore eyeglasses with regular, single vision lenses.
Soft Multifocal Contact Lenses
New research shows that multifocal contact lenses also may be an effective myopia control treatment, potentially more so than multifocal eyeglasses. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found that wearing multifocal contact lenses reduces the rate of progression of myopia in children by 50%.
One potential reason why multifocal contact lenses may limit progression is that these lenses appear to reduce the lengthening of the eye, which leads to increasing myopia over time.
Article ©2015 Access Media Group LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction other than for one-time personal use is strictly prohibited.
Learning-Related Vision Problems
There’s no question that good vision is important for learning. Experts say more than 80% of what your child is taught in school is presented to them visually.
To make sure your child has the visual skills they need for school, the first step is to make sure your child has 20/20 eyesight and that any nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism is fully corrected with glasses or contact lenses. But there are other, less obvious learning-related vision problems you should know about as well.
Good Vision Is More Than 20/20 Visual Acuity
Your child can have “20/20” eyesight and still have vision problems that can affect their learning and classroom performance. Visual acuity (how well your child can see letters on a wall chart) is just one aspect of good vision, and it’s not even the most important one. Many nearsighted kids may have trouble seeing the board in class, but they read exceptionally well and excel in school.
Other important visual skills needed for learning include:
- Eye movement skills – How smoothly and accurately your child can move their eyes across a printed page in a textbook.
- Eye focusing abilities – How well your child can change focus from far to near and back again (for copying information from the board, for example).
- Eye teaming skills – How well your child’s eyes work together as a synchronized team (to converge for proper eye alignment for reading, for example).
- Binocular vision skills – How well your child’s eyes can blend visual images from both eyes into a single, three-dimensional image.
- Visual perceptual skills – How well your child can identify and understand what he sees, judge its importance, and associate it with previous visual information stored in his brain.
- Visual-motor integration – The quality of your child’s eye-hand coordination, which is important not only for sports, but also for legible handwriting and the ability to efficiently copy written information from a book or chalkboard.
Deficiencies in any of these areas can significantly affect your child’s learning ability and school performance.
Many Kids Have Vision Problems That Affect Learning
Many kids have undetected learning-related vision problems. In fact, children are often misdiagnosed with learning problems or ADD/ADHD when, in fact, they have a vision problem.
According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), one study indicates 13% of children between the ages of 9 and 13 suffer from moderate to severe convergence insufficiency (an eye teaming problem that can affect reading performance), and as many as one in four school-age children may have at least one learning-related vision problem.
Signs and Symptoms of Learning-Related Vision Problems
There are many signs and symptoms of learning-related vision disorders, including:
- Blurred distance or near vision, particularly after reading or other close work
- Frequent headaches or eye strain
- Difficulty changing focus from distance to near and back
- Double vision, especially during or after reading
- Avoidance of reading
- Easily distracted when reading
- Poor reading comprehension
- Loss of place, repetition, and/or omission of words while reading
- Letter and word reversals
- Poor handwriting
- Hyperactivity or impulsiveness during class
- Poor overall school performance
If your child exhibits one or more of these signs or symptoms and is having problems in school, call us to schedule a comprehensive children’s vision exam.
Comprehensive Children’s Vision Exam
A comprehensive children’s vision exam includes tests performed in a routine eye exam, plus additional tests to detect learning-related vision problems. These extra tests may include an assessment of eye focusing, eye teaming, and eye movement abilities (also called accommodation, binocular vision, and ocular motility testing). Also, depending on the type of problems your child is having, we may recommend other testing, either in our office or with a children’s vision and/or vision development specialist.
If it turns out your child has a learning-related vision problem that cannot be corrected with regular glasses or contact lenses, then special reading glasses or vision therapy may help. Vision therapy is a program of eye exercises and other activities specifically tailored for each patient to improve vision skills.
Vision and Learning Disabilities
A child who is struggling in school could have a learning-related vision problem, a learning disability or both. Vision therapy is a treatment for vision problems; it does not correct a learning disability. However, children with learning disabilities may also have vision problems that are contributing to their difficulties in the classroom.
Vision Over 60
Eight Ways to Protect Your Eyesight
Sight-threatening eye problems affect one in six adults aged 45 and older. And the risk for vision loss increases with age. In fact, a recent American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) report estimates that more than 43 million Americans will develop age-related eye diseases by 2020.
Tips for Protecting Your Eyes
To protect your eyesight and keep your eyes healthy as you age, consider these simple guidelines:
- Be aware of your risk for eye diseases. Find out about your family’s health history. Do you or any of your family members suffer from diabetes or have high blood pressure? Are you over the age of 65? Are you an African-American over the age of 40? Any or all of these traits increase your risk for sight-threatening eye diseases. Regular eye exams can detect problems early and help preserve your eyesight.
- Have regular exams to check for diabetes and high blood pressure. If left untreated, these diseases can cause eye problems. In particular, diabetes and high blood pressure can lead to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma and ocular hypertension.
- Look for changes in your vision. If you start noticing changes in your vision, see your eye doctor immediately. Trouble signs include double vision, hazy vision and difficulty seeing in low light conditions. Other signs to look for are frequent flashes of light, floaters, and eye pain and swelling. All of these signs and symptoms can indicate a potential eye health problem that needs immediate attention.
- Exercise more frequently. According to the AAO, some studies suggest that regular exercise – such as walking – can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by up to 70%.
- Protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays. You should always wear sunglasses with proper UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. This may reduce your risk of cataracts and other eye damage.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Numerous studies have shown that antioxidants can possibly reduce the risk of cataracts. These antioxidants are obtained from eating a diet containing plentiful amounts of fruits and colorful or dark green vegetables. Studies have also shown that eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also prevent macular degeneration.
- Get your eyes checked at least every two years. A thorough eye exam, including dilating your pupils, can detect major eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, which has no early warning signs or symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam also can ensure that your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses is accurate and up-to-date.
- Don’t smoke. The many dangers of smoking have been well documented. When it comes to eye health, people who smoke are at greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Following these steps is no guarantee of perfect vision throughout your lifetime. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having regular eye exams will certainly decrease your risk of sight-stealing eye problems and help you enjoy your precious gift of eyesight to the fullest.
How Your Vision Changes as You Age
Just as our physical strength decreases with age, our eyes also exhibit an age-related decline in performance – particularly as we reach our 60s and beyond.
Some age-related eye changes, such as presbyopia, are perfectly normal and don’t signify any sort of disease process. Similarly, cataracts can be considered an age-related disease that is extremely common among seniors and can be readily corrected with cataract surgery.
Some of us, however, will experience more serious age-related eye diseases that have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as we grow older. These conditions include glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
When Do Age-Related Vision Changes Occur?
Presbyopia. After you pass the milestone age of 40, you’ll notice it’s more difficult to focus on objects up close. This normal loss of focusing ability is called presbyopia and is due to hardening of the lens inside your eye.
For a time, you can compensate for this decline in focusing ability by just holding reading material farther away from your eyes. But eventually you’ll need reading glasses, multifocal contact lenses or multifocal eyeglasses. Some corrective surgery options for presbyopia also are available, such as monovision LASIK and conductive keratoplasty (CK).
Cataracts. Even though cataracts are considered an age-related eye disease, they are so common among seniors that they can also be classified as a normal aging change. According to the Mayo Clinic, about half of all 65-year-old Americans have some degree of cataract formation in their eyes. As you enter your 70s, the percentage is even higher. It’s estimated that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts.
Thankfully, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and so effective that 100% of vision lost to cataract formation usually is restored. If you are noticing vision changes due to cataracts, don’t hesitate to discuss symptoms with your eye doctor. It’s often better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far. Also, multifocal lens implants are now available. These advanced intraocular lenses (IOLs) potentially can restore all ranges of vision, thus reducing your need for reading glasses as well as distance glasses after cataract surgery.
Major Age-Related Eye Diseases
Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among American seniors. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million people in the United States. The U.S. population is aging rapidly, and this number is expected to increase to almost 3 million by 2020. Currently there is no cure for AMD, but medical treatment may slow its progression or stabilize it.
Glaucoma. Your risk of developing glaucoma increases with each decade after age 40 – from around 1% in your 40s to up to 12% in your 80s. The number of Americans with glaucoma is expected to increase by 50% (to 3.6 million) by 2020. If detected early enough, glaucoma can often be controlled with medical treatment or surgery, and vision loss can be prevented.
Diabetic retinopathy. According to the NEI, approximately 10.2 million Americans over age 40 are known to have diabetes. Many experts believe that up to 30% of people who have diabetes have not yet been diagnosed. Among known diabetics over age 40, NEI estimates that 40% have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and one of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy. Controlling the underlying diabetic condition in its early stages is the key to preventing vision loss.
How Aging Affects Other Eye Structures
While normally we think of aging as it relates to conditions such as presbyopia and cataracts, more subtle changes in our vision and eye structures also take place as we grow older. These changes include:
- Reduced pupil size. As we age, muscles that control our pupil size and reaction to light lose some strength. This causes the pupil to become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting.
Because of these changes, people in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s. Also, seniors are more likely to be dazzled by bright sunlight and glare when emerging from a dimly lit building such as a movie theater. Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating can help reduce this problem.
- Dry eyes. As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears. This is particularly true for women after menopause. If you begin to experience burning, stinging or other eye discomfort related to dry eyes, your eye doctor can help you select an artificial tear or prescription dry eye medication to increase your comfort throughout the day.
- Loss of peripheral vision. Aging also causes a normal loss of peripheral vision, with the size of our visual field decreasing by approximately one to three degrees per decade of life. By the time you reach your 70s and 80s, you may have a peripheral visual field loss of 20 to 30 degrees.
Because the loss of visual field increases the risk for automobile accidents, make sure you are more cautious when driving. To increase your range of vision, turn your head and look both ways when approaching intersections.Â
- Decreased color vision. Cells in the retina that are responsible for normal color vision decline in sensitivity as we age, causing colors to become less bright and the contrast between different colors to be less noticeable. In particular, blue colors may appear faded or “washed out.” While there is no treatment for this normal, age-related loss of color perception, you should be aware of this loss if your profession (for example, artist, seamstress or electrician) requires fine color discrimination.
- Vitreous detachment. As we age, the gel-like vitreous inside the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina, causing “spots and floaters” and (sometimes) flashes of light. This condition, called vitreous detachment, is usually harmless. But floaters and flashes of light can also signal the beginning of a retinal detachment – a serious problem that can cause blindness if not treated immediately. If you experience flashes and floaters, see your eye doctor immediately to determine the cause.
What You Can Do About Age-Related Vision Changes
A healthy diet and wise lifestyle choices – including exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress and not smoking – are your best natural defenses against vision loss as you age. Also, have regular eye exams with a caring and knowledgeable optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Be sure to talk to your eye doctor about any concerns you have about your eyes and vision. Tell them about any history of eye problems in your family and any health problems you may have. Also, let your eye doctor know about any medications you take, including non-prescription vitamins, herbs and supplements.
Tips for Coping with Vision Loss
Many normal, age-related problems affecting vision can be addressed with practical solutions, such as extra lighting for reading recipes or tinkering with garage projects.
In fact, after about age 60, you may find you need additional illumination for most tasks performed indoors or in darker conditions outdoors. This is because your eye’s pupil no longer opens as widely as it once did to allow light to enter. Because less light is reaching your retina, where vision processing occurs, images are no longer as sharp as they once were.
To help offset this problem, you might consider extra steps such as:
- Installing task lighting underneath kitchen cabinets or above stoves to help illuminate darker corners.
- Making sure you have enough lighting to brighten work surfaces in your garage, sewing room or other areas where you need to see fine details.
- Asking your employer to install additional lighting, if needed, at your work space.
Also, make sure you have regular eye exams that include critical tests for older eyes to rule out potentially serious age-related eye diseases that may affect vision quality. Your eye doctor also can advise you about the best vision correction options to reduce the effects of normal age-related declines in near vision, color vision and contrast sensitivity.
Cataracts, which are very common in the over-60 age group, also can cause cloudy or hazy vision. Cataracts usually are easily remedied with surgery that removes the eye’s cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial one.
What Can You Do About Permanent Vision Loss?
Unfortunately, some age-related eye diseases — including glaucoma, advanced macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy — can cause serious vision loss and blind spots.
Many low vision devices are available to assist people with permanent vision loss so they can perform daily living tasks more easily. These devices include:
- Strong magnifying lenses with extra illumination for reading and other near vision work.
- Audio tapes, specially adapted computer or television screens, and telescopes.
- Lens filters and shields to reduce glare.
Vision Loss and the Elderly
One disturbing trend noted in recent years has been an increased tendency in our society to overlook or neglect the vision correction needs of elderly citizens, including those living in nursing homes.
As an example, researchers say almost one third of older Americans diagnosed with glaucoma receive no treatment for this potentially blinding eye disease.
Consequences of delaying vision correction or needed treatment, especially in elderly people, can be severe. Uncorrected vision problems can contribute to falls that seriously injure elderly people and greatly reduce their confidence in their ability to live independently.
If you have older relatives or friends living alone or in a nursing home, consider serving as their advocate to make sure they receive appropriate vision care and treatment of age-related eye diseases, to maximize their quality of life.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Children and Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer use has become a routine part of kids’ lives. About 90% of school-aged children in the U.S. have access to a computer. And kids are starting to use computers at a younger age. Among college students who were interviewed, 20% said they began using a computer before they were 9 years old.
In fact, the use of computers and other digital devices has become so common during childhood that a 2015 report by The Vision Council revealed that nearly one in four kids spend more than three hours a day using digital devices.
A Connection Between Computer Use and Myopia?
So how is all this computer use at a young age affecting kids’ eyes?
Many eye doctors who specialize in children’s vision say sustained computer use puts kids at higher risk for childhood myopia (nearsightedness). They point out that, though myopia affects approximately 25% of the U.S. population, nearly 50% of adult computer users with a college education are nearsighted. Computer use, especially among youngsters whose eyes are still changing, may be the reason for this disparity.
Research seems to support this theory. A study of 253 children between the ages of 6 and 10 at the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry found a strong correlation between the amount of time young children spend on the computer and their development of nearsightedness.
Why Computers Can Be Hard on Kids’ Eyes
Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen stresses a child’s eyes because the computer forces the child’s vision system to focus and strain a lot more than during any other task. This can put children at an even greater risk than adults for developing symptoms of computer vision syndrome. Computer use stresses the eyes more than reading a book or magazine because it’s harder to maintain focus on computer-generated images than on printed images. This is especially true for young children, whose visual system is not fully developed.
Doctors are also concerned about the long-term effects of exposure to the blue light that is emitted by digital devices. Blue light, also known as high-energy visible, or HEV, light penetrates deeper into the eye than ultraviolet light and may damage kids’ retinas.
According to the American Optometric Association, children may be especially vulnerable to computer-related vision problems because:
- Children have a limited degree of self-awareness. They may perform a task on the computer for hours with few breaks. This prolonged activity can cause focusing and eyestrain problems.
- Children assume that what they see and how they see is normal – even if their vision is impaired or slowly deteriorating.
- Children are smaller than adults. Because computer workstations are often arranged for adult use, this can increase the risk of children sitting too near the screen or adopting unusual postures that can lead to eyestrain and neck, shoulder and back pain.
Tips for Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome in Children
To prevent your child from developing eyestrain and other CVS symptoms (including increasing myopia), follow these tips:
- Before they start school, make sure your kids have a comprehensive eye exam – including an assessment of their near-point (computer and reading) vision skills.
- Make sure your child’s computer workstation is arranged to suit body size. For children, the recommended distance between the monitor and the eye is 18 to 28 inches to avoid risk of eyestrain with closer viewing. Also, the screen should be a few inches below the child’s eyes. The chair should be adjusted so your child’s arms are parallel with the desk surface and his feet rest comfortably on the floor. These adjustments help avoid posture problems and strained muscles.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of vision problems, such as eye redness, frequent rubbing of the eyes, head turns and other unusual postures or complaints of blurriness or eye fatigue. Avoidance of the computer or school work may also indicate a vision problem.
If you suspect your child may be developing a vision problem related to computer use, be sure to mention this when you make an appointment for an eye exam. Your doctor may want to set aside extra time to perform tests specifically designed to detect computer vision problems.
Computer Eyestrain: 10 Steps for Relief
With so many people using computers at work, eyestrain has become one of the leading office-related health complaints.
Experts estimate 50% to 90% of computer users experience some degree of eyestrain or other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) during their work day. Studies show eyestrain and CVS often cause fatigue, decreased productivity and more work errors.
So what can you do about it? Here are steps you (and your employer) can take to reduce computer eyestrain and the other common symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS):
1. Get a computer eye exam. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent computer vision problems. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), computer users should have an eye exam before they start working on a computer and once yearly thereafter. Be sure to tell your eye doctor how often you use a computer at work and at home.
2. Use proper lighting. Computer eyestrain is often caused by excessively bright ambient lighting — either from outdoor sunlight coming in through a window or from harsh interior lighting. For the most comfortable computer use, ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that found in most offices.
If possible, reduce the brightness of interior lighting by using fewer fluorescent tubes in overhead light fixtures, or use lower intensity bulbs. Also try to position your monitor so that windows are to the side of it, instead of in front or back. You can also close curtains, shades and blinds to reduce the amount of sunlight at your workstation.
3. Minimize glare. Glare on walls and finished surfaces, as well as reflections on the computer screen, can also cause computer eyestrain. You may want to install an anti-glare screen on your monitor and, if possible, paint bright white walls a darker color with a matte finish.
Again, cover the windows. When outside light cannot be reduced, consider using a computer hood.
If you wear glasses, have an anti-reflective (AR) coating applied to your lenses. AR coating reduces glare by minimizing the amount of light reflecting off the front and back surfaces of your eyeglass lenses.
4. Upgrade your display. If you’ve not already done so, replace your old tube-style monitor (called a cathode ray tube or CRT) with a flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD), like those on laptop computers.
LCD screens are easier on the eyes and usually have an anti-reflective surface. Old-fashioned CRT screens can cause a “flicker” of images on the screen. Even if this flicker is imperceptible, it can still contribute to eyestrain and fatigue during computer work.
If you still use a CRT, you can decrease eyestrain from flicker by increasing the refresh rate of your screen to 75 hertz (Hz) or higher. You can access this setting in the Control Panel of your computer.
When choosing a new flat panel display, select a screen with the highest resolution possible. Resolution is related to the “dot pitch” of the display. Generally, displays with a lower dot pitch have sharper images. Choose a display with a dot pitch of .28 mm or smaller.
Finally, choose a relatively large display. For a desktop computer, select a display that has a diagonal screen size of at least 19 inches.
5. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen. For more comfortable viewing, adjust the display settings on your computer so the brightness of the screen is about the same as that of your work environment.
As a test, try looking at the white background of this web page. If it looks like a light source, it’s too bright. If it seems dull and gray, it may be too dark.
Also, adjust your screen settings to make sure the contrast between the screen background and the on-screen characters is high. And make sure that the text size and color are optimized for the most comfort. Usually, black text on a white background is the best color combination. But other high-contrast, dark-on-light combinations may also be acceptable.
Finally, adjust your computer’s color temperature. Reducing the color temperature of your display lowers the amount of blue light emitted by a color display. Blue light is short-wavelength visible light that is associated with more eyestrain than longer wavelength hues, such as orange and red.
6. Blink more often. Blinking is very important — it rewets your eyes to keep them moist, comfortable and clear.
Studies show that, during computer use, people blink less frequently — about one-third as often as they normally do. And, according to studies, many blinks performed during computer work are only partial lid closures. This greatly increases the risk for dry eyes, blurred vision, eye irritation and fatigue.
To keep your eyes comfortable and seeing well during computer use, try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help rewet your eyes.
Also, keep a bottle of artificial tears at your workplace and use them to moisten your eyes often during prolonged computer use. Ask your eye doctor to recommend the best brands for your needs.
7. Exercise your eyes. Another cause of computer eyestrain is focusing fatigue. Research shows that it’s harder for our eyes to maintain focus on computer-generated images than on printed images in a book or magazine.
To reduce your risk of focusing fatigue during computer use, look away from your screen or monitor every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object across the room. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside your eyes, reducing focusing fatigue.
Another exercise is to look far away at an object for 10-15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10-15 seconds, and then look back at the distant object again. Do this 10 times. This exercise reduces the risk of your eyes’ focusing system “locking up” (a condition called accommodative spasm) during prolonged computer work.
8. Take frequent breaks. Take frequent, short breaks from your computer work throughout the day. Stand up, walk away from your work station and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders. These activities will reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back and shoulder pain.
Many workers take only two 15-minute breaks from their computer during their work day. According to a recent NIOSH study, computer workers experienced significantly less discomfort and eyestrain if they took four additional 5-minute “mini-breaks” during the day.
Interestingly, these supplementary breaks did not reduce productivity. Data entry speed was significantly faster as a result of the extra breaks, so work output was maintained even though the workers had 20 extra minutes of break time each day.
9. Modify your workstation. Looking back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen (as during data entry tasks), can also cause eyestrain. To improve comfort during these tasks, place the print material on a copy stand adjacent to your screen or monitor. If necessary, use a desk lamp to illuminate the print material – but make sure it doesn’t shine into your eyes or onto the computer screen.
Improper posture during computer work also contributes to computer vision syndrome. Adjust your workstation and chair to a comfortable height so your feet are flat on the floor in front of you.
Adjust your chair and computer so your screen is approximately 20 to 24 inches from your eyes and slightly below eye level so you can view it comfortably with your head and neck in a natural position.
10. Consider computer eyewear. For the greatest comfort at your computer, you may benefit from having a customized eyeglasses prescription for your computer work. This is especially true if you normally wear contact lenses that can become dry and uncomfortable during sustained computer work.
Computer glasses are also a good choice if you normally wear eyeglasses with bifocal or progressive lenses. Though these lenses provide excellent vision for most tasks, they don’t provide an adequate viewing zone for prolonged computer work.
Your eye doctor can prescribe specially designed computer eyewear to give you the best possible vision at your computer screen. Keep in mind that computer glasses are a specific type of eyewear and typically should not be worn when driving.
When you work at a computer for any length of time, it’s common to experience eyestrain, blurred vision and other symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS). Viewing computer-generated print and images on a screen or monitor for prolonged periods is harder on the eyes than viewing a similar amount of material on the printed pages of a book or magazine.
If you’re under age 40, blurred vision during computer use may be due to your eyes being unable to remain accurately focused on your screen for sustained periods. Or you may have a hard time quickly and accurately changing focus, such as when you shift your gaze from your monitor to your keyboard and back again. This problem, called lag of accommodation, can cause eyestrain and headaches — two common symptoms of CVS.
If you’re over age 40, the onset of presbyopia — the normal age-related loss of near focusing ability — can make focusing on a computer screen even more difficult, further increasing the risk of eyestrain, headaches and eye fatigue.
So what can you do to make your eyes more comfortable and function more efficiently during computer use? Have your eye doctor prescribe specially designed computer glasses.
Customized computer glasses can make a world of difference. These special-purpose glasses are prescribed specifically to reduce eyestrain and give you the most comfortable vision at your computer.
I Already Wear Glasses. Do I Really Need Computer Glasses?
If you already wear prescription eyeglasses or reading glasses, you may be tempted to dismiss the idea of computer glasses. But eyeglasses prescribed for general-purpose wearing are often not well-suited for prolonged computer work.
Why? When working at a computer, your eyes are generally 20 to 26 inches from your computer screen. This distance is considered the intermediate zone of vision — closer than driving (distance) vision, but farther away than reading (near) vision.
Most young people wear eyeglasses to correct their distance vision. Reading glasses are prescribed to correct near vision only. And bifocals prescribed for those over age 40 with presbyopia correct only near and far. None of these eyeglasses are optimized for the intermediate zone of vision used during computer work.
Even trifocals and progressive lenses, which do include the correct power for intermediate vision, have only a small portion of the lens dedicated to this area — not nearly a large enough area for comfortable prolonged computer work.
Without the appropriate eyewear, computer users can often end up with blurred vision, eyestrain, and headaches — the hallmark symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS). Worse still, many people try to compensate for their blurred vision by leaning forward, or by tipping their head to look through the bottom portion of their glasses. These unnatural postures can lead to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and backaches.
Computer Glasses Reduce Errors and Increase Productivity
Are computer glasses worth the extra cost of a second pair of glasses?
Yes, they are. Research has shown that, in addition to increasing comfort and decreasing the risk of CVS, prescription computer glasses can reduce errors and productivity loss caused by vision problems during computer work.
A study conducted at the University of Alabama School of Optometry found that even minor changes from the optimum lens power for computer work can cause a 38% decrease in accuracy for tasks performed on a computer and a 9% loss in worker productivity. The researchers concluded that, because of productivity gains from workers wearing computer glasses, companies that pay for computer eyewear for their employees could experience a benefit/cost ratio of $18 for every $1 spent.
Computer Lens Designs
There are a number of special purpose lens designs that work well for computer glasses. Because these lenses are prescribed specifically for computer use, they are unsuitable for driving or general-purpose wear.
The simplest computer glasses have single vision lenses with a modified lens power prescribed to give the most comfortable vision at the user’s computer screen. These lenses reduce the amount of focusing the eyes have to do to keep images on the computer screen clear and provide the largest field of view, reducing the need for head tilting and other unnatural posture changes during computer work.
For older computer users, a specially designed occupational progressive lens for computer use is sometimes a better option. Progressive lenses for computer use have a larger intermediate zone than regular progressive lenses for a wider, more comfortable view of the computer screen.
Another option for presbyopic computer users is an occupational lined bifocal or trifocal, with larger intermediate and near zones than regular designs.
Your eyecare professional can help you decide which lens design will best suit your needs.
Lens Coatings and Treatments
Anti-reflective (AR) coating can make your computer glasses even more comfortable. This coating reduces glare caused by reflections of overhead fluorescent lighting that can occur in uncoated eyeglass lenses.
Also, because many office environments are too bright for optimum visual comfort, a light tint is often a good idea as well.
Finally, some of the newer computer lenses are specifically designed to block the short-wavelength, blue light that is emitted from computer screens. Blue light is associated with glare, eyestrain and potentially more serious long-term vision problems.