Eye Health is Affected by Being Outside

shutterstock_277128476One of the battles most people with kids have is getting them to get outside to play.  This generation of kids, and adults, spend more time in front of electronics than any generation before it.

Being outside has benefits for  just about everyone.  Sun exposure increases Vitamin D production in the body, which helps with bone development and regeneration.  Vitamin D also has a lot to do with strengthening our immune system.  Those who don’t get enough Vitamin D are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It helps improve our sleep, and most importantly our mental wellbeing.

Eye health is also strongly affected by being outside.  Bright sunlight helps release the chemical dopamine within the retina of the eye.  This stimulates the health and regeneration of this important part of the eye.

One thing eye doctors have been seeing more over the past 2 decades is an increase in Myopia- or near-sightedness.   Myopia is when we can see well up-close, but not at a distance.  Myopia is estimated to affect about half of kids in the U.S., and more in Southeastern Asian countries.  New research from China, where myopia is at epidemic levels, is showing the increased exposure to artificial light- ie. Computers, video games, hand-held devices, etc- may be having a negative effect on myopia, increasing near-sightedness.  In the study, researchers adjusted the testing group to spend 40 minutes more outdoors versus the control group.  This increase in outdoor play over 3 years showed a reduction of myopia of around 23%.  Another study found that, “among American children with two myopic parents, those who spent at least two hours per day outdoors were four time less likely to be nearsighted than those who spent less than one hour per day outside.”  The solution is simple – more time outdoors and more natural light.

Myopia is due to having a larger eye than normal.  Over time, the size of the eye and constant focusing can cause other problems with the health of our eyes.   Vitreal detachments’, retinal tears, and retinal detachments are all things people who are near-sighted experience at a higher rate than those who are not myopic.  There’s many different treatment option and therapies eye doctors employ in attempting to control the amount, or progression, of myopia.  Starting at young ages, some patients will be given bifocal glasses to help with reading.  Under-correction, giving less prescription that the patient is found to have, is also a method that is employed.  Rigid gas permeable lenses has been a method tried over the years, along with more recently, Ortho-K – hard lenses worn nightly by children showing progressive myopia.   All of these methods have shown varying levels of success and studies are inconclusive to which method is the best and most successful.

As we age, the amount of myopia can progress, usually leveling off somewhere in our 20’s.  After stability if verified, refractive surgeries like Lasik and PRK are great options for people who suffer from myopia.

So along with all the other benefits of outdoor time, positively effecting mental health and reducing childhood obesity, being active and outdoors is a great way to keep our eyes healthy starting at a young age.  Continue to get your eyes checked annually by any of the great doctors here at Metrolina Eye Associates.  Ask about different solutions and treatments which may be best for you.  The doctors here will work with you every step of the way to ensure you’re happy with your treatment choice and your vision today and for years to come.

By Sean Pitale, OD