Children at Risk for Eye Strain
Due to Growing Use of Digital Devices
As children grow up in a world full of personal computers, hand-held video games, smartphones and e-readers, they are increasing their risk of computer vision syndrome (CVS) or digital eye strain.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children and teenagers (ages 8-18) are spending more than 7.5 hours a day consuming electronic media which can cause blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, neck pain and back pain. In addition, VSP® Vision Care optometrists recently reported that nearly one-third of their patients suffer from symptoms of CVS, including eye strain, dry or irritated eyes, fatigue and headaches.
“While digital eye strain is commonly regarded as an adult condition, tech-savvy children are growing up with access to a variety of digital devices and are suffering from the side effects of overuse. With children spending upwards of 1.5 hours texting day, it’s no wonder their eyes are causing them pain,” said Dr.Leanne Liddicoat, a VSP optometrist who stars in VSP Vision Care’s EyeFilesTM web series. The new webisode, which highlights ways to protect children from CVS, can be viewed on the EyeFiles tab on the VSP Facebook page: www.facebook.com/VSPVisionCare.
CVS, or digital eye strain, is a medical issue with serious symptoms that can affect learning and work productivity. It is now the number one computer-related complaint in the U.S. ahead of carpal-tunnel syndrome.
“The eyes function best when looking at something about 20 feet away. Looking at something close-up, like a computer game, text message or e-reader requires more focus, and over time, can lead to blurry vision, eye strain and headaches,” explains Dr. Liddicoat. “Also, the eyes blink less frequently when looking at screens causing them dry out, which can result in blurriness, burning, and discomfort. However there are easy steps parents and children can take to prevent these symptoms.”
Dr. Liddicoat offers the following tips to help parents protect their kids’ eyes against over use of digital devices:
- Eye exams: It’s important that a child has the best vision possible when using digital devices. This starts with a comprehensive examination by an eye doctor, not just a school screening. Children should have their first eye exam at six months of age, then at three years of age, before starting kindergarten, and every year after that.
- 20/20/20 Rule: To avoid fatigue and digital eye strain symptoms, eye doctors recommend the “20/20/20 Rule.” Every 20 minutes, stop and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Ensure proper lighting: Poor lighting often causes eye strain. Ease strain by keeping bright lights overhead to a minimum and position your desk lamp to shine on your desk, and not at you. Position your computer screen in a way that reduces reflections and glare from windows or overhead lights.
- Limit device use: Set time limits on the amount of “screen time.” It’s recommended that children under two years have no screen time and older children have less than 2 hours per day. Parents should be aware of how long their children are using digital devices for, and look for digital eye strain symptoms like squinting, rubbing of the eyes and complaints of back, neck or head pain.
- Working distance: The closer the eyes are to the object they’re looking at, the harder the eyes have to work. A good rule is to apply the Harmon Distance (the distance between the elbow and first knuckle) as a guide. If a child is holding video games and digital devices closer than their Harmon Distance, let their eye doctor know so that he or she can evaluate if there is a vision problem.
- Go outside! Not only does outdoor play feel good, but research shows that it helps prevent the development of nearsightedness. A few hours of outdoor play per day may actually help your child’s vision. Remember to use sunglasses and sunscreen!