08 Dec Avoiding Digital Eyestrain in Children
Today, children are glued to screens, using computers, iPads, playing video games, or watching the television throughout the day. While online or hybrid learning models mean children must spend many hours on their device during school hours, breaks from school (such as winter break or march break) do not mean they will also be taking a break from screen time! Heavy screen use can potentially affect a child’s vision and eye health… but they will not stop using their screens to protect their eyes! Whether children are at school or on break, it is important to monitor children’s screen use to prevent digital eyestrain and decrease the risk of eye and vision problems caused by prolonged use of devices.
Risk Factors & Symptoms
Digital eyestrain is a condition that is caused by visual stress due to extended screen time. When using devices, we generally do not blink as frequently, leaving our eyes dry and irritated. Further, focusing our eyes at the same distance for an extended period can cause the eye muscles to become tired, leading to eye fatigue and headaches. There are many factors that can contribute to digital eyestrain, including: screen glare, blue light, poor posture during use, using the device at too close an angle, and more.
While most symptoms of digital eyestrain are temporary and will resolve when a child has finished their screen time, some symptoms can last longer. These can include: eye discomfort, fatigue, headaches, dry eye, eye redness and itchiness, blurred vision, and double vision. If you find your child is suffering from these symptoms, it is important to book an eye examination for a diagnosis before more serious eye conditions can develop. To prevent digital eyestrain from developing in the first place, continue reading.
1. Take Frequent Breaks
Children can easily become absorbed in a task—especially in an engaging video game or television show—and may not notice the symptoms of eye strain. It is important to remind your children that they need to take screen breaks periodically to allow their eyes to rest. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. This allows the eyes to refocus and rest, making eyestrain less likely to occur. If break reminders are difficult to maintain, try setting a timer!
It is also important that children walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour, allowing them to not only rest their eyes but stretch their muscles. Children ages 6 and over should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day! Encourage your child to get outside to play, as active play is the best exercise for young children. Not only is outdoor time excellent for children’s physical health, but it can also help improve their eye health. Outside play allows children to focus at different distances, and with variable natural lighting. However, if they are playing outside in winter, ensure they are wearing eye protection to avoid symptoms of snow blindness!
2. Blue Light Protection
Another way that screens can contribute to digital eyestrain is through exposure to blue light. Blue light emanates from both digital screens and the sun, and excessive exposure to this form of light can cause damage to a child’s retinas and disrupt their natural circadian rhythm. Damage to the light-sensitive cells in the retina can lead to macular degeneration, an eye condition that causes permanent vision loss. Blue light also suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, which can affect the quality and length of a child’s sleep.
To protect your child’s eyes from blue light, you may want to purchase glasses with blue light filters in the lenses. These glasses can be purchased in multiple styles, or, if your child already wears prescription lenses, can often be added as a coating. To block blue light from the sun, have them wear sunglasses when outdoors playing, no matter the season. Is your child averse to wearing glasses? Check out our blog for helpful tips on increasing a child’s comfort level wearing glasses!
3. Ensure Adequate Sleep
Screen use can disrupt a child’s sleep not only due to its blue light emission, but also due to not allowing the brain to relax and move into “rest” mode before sleep. Not getting enough sleep can leave children with tired, sore eyes, as well as lack of energy. To ensure the best possible sleep, avoid exposure to screens for one hour before going to bed. To help achieve this goal, create a “bedtime” for your child’s devices, as well as a designated place where they go to “sleep.” Engage in off-screen activities for the hour before bed. For younger children, read a bedtime story or engage in off-screen play; for older children, encourage reading a book over grabbing the nearest handheld device.
4. Lighting & Screen Positioning
Finally, the location in which your child uses their screens can have an impact on the health of their eyes. Both lighting and screen positioning can be factors in an increased risk of digital eyestrain. If your child is using a computer, the screen should be located slightly below eye level, as looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out more quickly. For a small child, this positioning can be difficult. Invest in a height-adjustable chair to allow you to adjust the angle at which your child views the screen when they are using it.
When a child is watching television, ensure they are at least 10 feet away—more, if it is a big screen! You should also consider the level of lighting in the room where your child spends time watching television or using devices. Ideally, this space should not be lit as brightly as spaces used for writing or doing crafts. Computers and screens should be positioned so that light from windows and overhead fixtures do not shine directly on the screen, as this can cause difficulty seeing due to glare. If your child wears prescription glasses, an anti-reflective coating can also help to cut back on glare. If your child needs to—or insists upon—using screens even when not at school, optimizing screen placement can help cut down on the risk of digital eyestrain.
If your child is having vision problems, they may not immediately tell you about them. Therefore, it is important that children are taken to regular eye examinations to determine if they are having difficulties with their vision. It is recommended that children have their eyes examined annually, where the optometrist will conduct a complete vision test as well as check on the overall health of the eye. Your eye doctor will be able to determine if your child is suffering from digital eye strain, or another vision issue, as well as recommend treatment options and further tips for prevention.
The best thing for your child is to ensure that you are finding a balance between the digital and physical world. Children will never be able to go fully offline in today’s world, and so balance can be important for their mental, physical, and vision health. If your child is due for an eye examination, contact Dr D’Orio Eyecare to make an appointment. Visit https://drdorioeyecare.com/book-appointment/ or call us at 416 656 2020 for our Toronto location, or 416 661 5555 for our North York location.