30 October 2019, by Joel Chng
Last November, news broke that the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) was launching a new centre due to an urgent need to counter myopia, and the statistics shocked me.
It has been a year yet I clearly remember the numbers: 20% of children in Singapore are myopic when they start Primary One, and by the time they turn 18, the figure would have risen to 70%.
It was then that I realised it was time for a mindset change!
Myopia is a major problem in Singapore, and Singapore is known as the world’s ‘myopia capital’ (due to how common it is here). My wife Petrina and I started wearing glasses when we were in lower primary, and it is common knowledge that children with myopic parents are likely to become myopic.
However, the article showed me that instead of having knowledge on early detection and care for myopia, I should educate myself on the preventive measures for Ezra. I mean, prevention is better than cure – right?
Let me share what I have learnt:
Firstly, myopia is not simply genetic. Other contributing factors include insufficient outdoor time and excessive near-sighted activities (reading, watching television, and frequent use of digital devices).
Studies have shown that outdoor activities delay the development of myopia.
In Singapore, spending time outdoors is sometimes easier said than done – parents work long hours, and not all schools encourage outdoor play. Thus I am thankful that my parent-in-laws frequently bring Ezra to the various playgrounds in our estate, while Petrina regularly arranges for Ezra to go on play dates on weekday afternoons. On weekends, I make a conscious effort to organise something outdoors.
I am glad that Ezra makes friends very easily and it does not matter whether we are at the playground downstairs or at the beach in Sentosa. Spending time outdoors is also good for Ezra’s physical well-being as it improves physical activity and reduces sedentary time. I am also aware of the need to protect Ezra’s eyes from the sun. All of Ezra’s sunglasses have had ultraviolet (UV) protection, and he wears a cap on scorching days to shield his eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.
Secondly, have your child’s eyes evaluated annually – even if there are no symptoms. Ezra went for his first vision screening at six months old, and subsequent vision screenings were done every September (after each birthday).
This non-invasive and quick screening uses child-safe photo screening technology to identify vision defects and detect common eye problems. Common eye problems include short-sightedness (myopia), lazy eyes (amblyopia), and crossed-eyes (strabismus).
After each consultation with the optometrist, the vision screening results would be made available via email. Eye screening is important, as undiagnosed eye problems among pre-school children usually go unnoticed. These eye problems can impede a child’s academic learning, as new information is often presented and processed visually.
Next, rest your child’s eyes and encourage healthy eye care habits. Healthy eye care habits include providing adequate lighting when your child is reading or playing.
When your child is reading, his eyes should be approximately 30 to 40cm away from the book.
When your child gets screen time, his eyes should be approximately 50cm away from the electronic devices.
Ensuring your child gets eight hours of nighttime sleep is also important to prevent straining your child’s eyes. Allow your child to take regular breaks after every 30-minute block of reading, writing, or using the computer. A child’s brain develops rapidly during their first few years, and young children learn best by interacting with people – not screens.
Finally, ensure that your child’s diet includes fruits, vegetable and fatty fish. Some nutritious foods for the eyes are avocados, brussels sprouts, corn, egg yolks, grapes, kale, kiwi, spinach and zucchini. Also, eating fatty fish like salmon, herring and tuna are beneficial when it comes to eye development.
As we take steps to improve society’s understanding of myopia, may we succeed in reducing its impact for the next generation and the generations to come.