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5 Back-to-school rules to help protect your kids’ eyes (Distance Learning Edition)

Many kids are re-entering the classroom with nearly a year of distance learning under their belts. Going from all that screen time into an in-person learning environment might uncover some new visual challenges. Most kids simply don’t realize if their sight is off. So we’ve got a list of need-to-knows for parents aiming to keep their kids’ vision focused and healthy during this “back to school” season.

Kids Eye Exams Are Important Year Round

A whopping 80% of a child’s learning comes through the eyes, yet 1 in 4 school-age children have a vision problem. But often kids don’t even know something is wrong. It’s up to us parents to spot the signs of compromised eyesight and to take precautions against it.

  1. Your student’s digital “classroom” might have changed their vision. Because a computer forces the user to focus and strain more than many other tasks, heavy computer use among kids can lead to early myopia (also known as nearsightedness). According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, kids who develop myopia early in life have a greater chance of developing vision issues like glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal detachment. Now is the time to have their eyes checked to see what changes might have occurred during distance learning, and address them early.
  2. Screenings aren’t everything. In-school screenings may detect basic problems, but don’t assume total vision health in your student when one of these goes well. In fact, school vision screenings can miss up to 50% of visual issues. A comprehensive eye exam tests your child’s complete visual system and can help gauge how the eyes work together and other functions. Again, now is the time. Early detection is key!
  3. Vision issues can manifest as behavior problems. Because grades may suffer and behavior changes with degrading vision, children who have trouble seeing are often misdiagnosed with behavioral problems like ADHD. If your child has trouble keeping their focus or concentration, it might be time for an eye exam.
  4. Difficulty or disliking reading is the most common issue we see in kids–and it’s often not related to their intelligence level. If your child doesn’t like to read, it may be because they lose their place easily, or the letters are flipped or too fuzzy to detect. This can lead to headaches, fatigue and lightheadedness. Kids naturally want to avoid these and will therefore avoid reading.
  5. Watch out for body or head contortions. Head tilting may look inquisitive and cute, but when it’s a habit while reading, it could signal a potential vision issue in your child. The same goes for kids who rub their eyes a lot, crane their neck closer or farther away from a page, or cover one eye while reading.

Watch to learn more about how distance learning might have affected your students’ vision

All these issues can be identified and addressed with a comprehensive vision exam. If you want your kids to have a comfortable and successful transition return to the classroom, schedule a visit to EYEcenter as part of your back-to-school checklist.

6 Facts About Blue Light & How It Affects Your Eyes

Ever think about light and what it’s made of? All types of visible light, be it from your computer screen, ceiling lamp or the sun, emit rays that have various effects. Most people are aware of the dangers of UV rays from sun exposure and the importance of sunscreen and sunglasses. But what many aren’t aware of is that light shines with a range of different coloured rays that have different amounts of energy, and some pose more of a threat than others. In this article, our Citrus Heights eye doctor discusses blue light.

Basics of Blue Light

In brief, light rays have different wavelengths, and the longer the wavelength, the less energy it has. Conversely, the shorter the wavelength – the higher the amount of energy. Blue light is one of the shortest, highest energy wavelengths of visible light.

What else is essential to know about blue light? Here are six primary points:

1. You can’t escape blue light; it’s everywhere.

The sun is the main source of natural blue light, but there are numerous artificial sources of blue light, such as LED and fluorescent light, flat-screen TVs, computer monitors, and the screens of all digital devices. While the amount of blue light emitted by these devices is small in comparison to what’s emitted by the sun, the amount of time people spend looking at these devices has raised a red flag for eye care professionals around the world. Eye doctors are concerned about the long-term effects of artificial blue light.

2. Blue light can endanger your future eye health.

Studies have shown that overexposure to blue light can damage retinal cells, leading to changes that increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Over time, macular degeneration can lead to vision loss.

3. Blue light glasses help your eyes block blue light.

While the human eye has some built-in protection against UV radiation reaching the retina at the back of your eyeball, it doesn’t block blue light well. Almost all visible blue light can pass smoothly through your cornea and lens, getting all the way to the retina. Blue light glasses offer an efficient way to prevent overexposure to this radiation. We offer specialty eyewear including blue light glasses at our Citrus Heights optical shop; stop by anytime to learn more.

4. Blue light can cause digital eye strain.

Blue light cannot be focused as easily as other visible light, because it scatters more readily. When you gaze at a digital screen, you subject your eyes to a lot of unfocused visual “noise,” which reduces visual contrast, and can cause the uncomfortable symptoms of digital eye strain. Blue light glasses (with yellow-tinted lenses) can prevent this disruptive condition and enhance comfort when you’re using a computer or device for long periods.

5. Cataract surgery can increase the risk of blue light on your eyes.

When the natural lens of your eye is removed during cataract surgery, it will be replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). For optimal eye health, this artificial lens should provide blue light protection. Be sure to discuss the type of IOL that your eye surgeon will use. After surgery, you may benefit from wearing blue light glasses crafted with a special filter in the lenses – especially if you spend a lot of time on the computer.

6. Blue light can also be good for you.

As we discuss all the ways to limit your exposure to blue light, our Citrus Heights eye doctor points out that you also need blue light for good health! Scientific studies have shown it boosts moods, energizes your body, and helps with memory and cognitive function. It also plays a crucial role in regulating circadian rhythm, which is your wake-sleep cycle. On that note, while normal exposure to blue light during the daytime helps you to fall asleep at night, too much blue light late at night will prevent you from slipping peacefully into sleep.

Don’t let blue light disturb your visual comfort during the day or get in the way of a good night’s sleep! Visit our Citrus Heights eye care centre to learn how blue light glasses can help.

The Nearsighted Epidemic – How Digital Device Addiction is Changing our World

dr fuerst

Randall Fuerst O.D., F.A.A.O.

Being nearsighted—otherwise known as myopia, is a growing concern in the eye health industry. It's effects are lifelong, and it's rates of occurrence are increasing drastically. Further, suggested links to digital device use have us looking to the future as more and more kids find focusing up close on a phone or laptop a significant part of daily life.

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a statement regarding a global initiative to address the myopia epidemic. EYEcenter joins the eye health community in heightened concern that the coronavirus pandemic may worsen the epidemic of children at risk of nearsightedness. EYEcenter’s Dr. Randall Fuerst weighs in on the subject below, including suggestions to help your children avoid increased risk.

Last year, the CDC issued a report that stated the average US adult is using digital devices approximately eleven hours per day.  I ask my adult patients how many hours they are using a computer, smartphone, or tablet—and these numbers are certainly borne out. Research is starting to show a strong causative impact between screen time and eye and vision changes for the worse. Newer research is now showing strong links to sight-threatening diseases—macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachments—all of which can lead to blindness.

A recent 2020 report out of South Korea, where military service is compulsory, stated that 95.1% of 19-year-old males in South Korea measured as nearsighted (myopic). On November 11, 2020, the Academy of Ophthalmology in a joint statement with the American Academy of Optometry noted that in the US the number of nearsighted Americans has doubled in the past 50 years—to about 41.6% of our population. In Asia, the numbers are now at between 80-90% nearsighted.

So Why is This a Problem?

The trends suggest that by 2050, half the world’s population will be nearsighted. The bigger problem is not more people needing glasses or contact lenses. It is that those who genetically are destined to be myopic are starting earlier—and ending up significantly more myopic—a condition called high myopia, or pathologic myopia.

“Myopia needs our focus now”, states Richard Abbott, MD, leader of the Academy of Ophthalmology’s Myopia Task Force. “Kids who develop myopia early in life and progress to high myopia face an uncertain future. They have 50% greater risk of glaucoma, they are 17% more likely to need cataract surgery, and have 6 times greater risk of retinal detachment and retinal tears.”

In a study out of Finland that followed myopic progression for 22 years, researchers found that ‘over 80% of those getting their first myopic spectacles at age 9 become highly myopic.’

“Right now, the world’s myopia rates are expected to be closer to Asia’s by 2050. It’s possible—but not inevitable,” said Donald Tan, MD, a director of the Myopia Task Force. “ Public health officials need to recognize that high myopia is a disease and promote interventions to reduce its overall incidence and slow progression. Action now can change the future.”

The challenge with myopia is that in the early years, you don’t need to wear your glasses all the time due to your vision only being minimally challenged. In fact, it is called nearsighted for a very descriptive reason—you can see well at near—possibly better than with glasses. But, as the months slip into years, and the vision loss progresses, we miss an important window for intervention. Like the age-old adage states, the earlier, the better. There have been hundreds of millions of dollars spent researching how we can slow and possibly even stop the progression of myopia. “There are a number of treatments available, which slow myopia progression. They include drops, special contact lenses, and glasses.  Many of these treatments have been around for decades, and some have undergone rigorous clinical trials.  The future for newer and better methods is bright with some newer methods already approved in Europe,” states Jeffrey Cooper, OD, MS, FAAO, professor emeritus, SUNY College of Optometry, and one of the foremost myopia treatment experts.

The key, however, is early intervention – a time when most kids and parents look at nearsightedness as a minor irritation.

There are several common-sense recommendations that we make to parents.

What Has Shown to Be Effective
  1. Limit screen time.
  2. Read and work in good lighting. Lower light levels are adapted to visually by increasing your pupil size. Larger pupils, like camera lenses with larger aperture settings, decrease depth of focus. This, in turn, increases the load on the patient’s focusing system, called accommodation.
  3. Maintain a good working distance from the eyes to the digital device. This should be at least 12”, and preferably, 14-16” away.
  4. 20/20 Rule – it is easy to spend hours working on near tasks. For hours then, the accommodative system is engaged and active. This ‘rule’ suggests that whenever possible, every twenty minutes, take a 20-second break, look at least 20 feet away to relax your eyes focusing muscles, and blink 10-20 times (extended computer use has been shown to decrease blinking).
  5. Go outdoors! There are a number of good studies that show that by being outside in the sunlight, there is a decrease in the progression of myopia.
  6. MiSight Soft Contact lenses—These FDA approved soft contact lenses have been demonstrated to slow the rate of myopic progression by nearly 50%.
  7. Orthokeratology gas permeable contacts. These FDA approved contact lenses are worn during sleep, flattening the corneal and slowing the increase in axial length- the factors that change in myopia.
  8. Low dose atropine—an eye drop that has been shown to be surprisingly effective with slowing nearsighted progression. Atropine is one of the world’s oldest drugs known to man. Eye doctors don’t argue as to whether or not atropine works or not, rather, the argument is on what strength is most effective.

Who would have thought, twenty years ago or so, that we would be so incredibly involved with our digital devices? In the past month, I have had several patients reporting that they are on their devices 16-18 hours a day! Twelve to 14 hours daily is not uncommon. When I asked about sleep and eating and how that factors in, patients just shake their heads.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are being encouraged to push for greater intervention earlier in children’s lives. The concern is that, by waiting and missing the window when a child has low levels of myopia, you allow the more devasting vision loss causing diseases to, in essence, take root. Noel Brennan, MScOptom, PhD, FAAO, and Clinical Research Fellow at Johnson and Johnson Vision Care wrote recently, Our ability to isolate those myopic children who will not become highly myopic later in life is poor.  And suppose you did identify a child who has progressed by, say, a diopter or a diopter and a half a year—that’s progression you now cannot take back. And every diopter reduction in progression lessens the risk of myopic macular degeneration (MMD) by about 40%. The risks associated with, say, increasing outdoor time and use of daily disposable myopia control contact lenses are minimal compared to those risks associated with myopia-related complications later in life. 

Be sure and ask your EYEcenter doctor about your child’s risks regarding nearsightedness (myopia) and screen time. Our dedication to keeping you and your family seeing and enjoying the world around us to the fullest is our absolute drive and motivation!

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