The COVID-19 pandemic has meant many children are attending school remotely. They’re using their electronic devices to go to class either part time or full time, interacting with screens more than ever.
According to Dr. Edwin Grant, an optometrist at Chardon and Chesterland Family Eyecare in Chardon and Chester Township; Larry Haas, owner at Bexley Optical Boutique in Bexley; and Dr. Joy Stoler, an optometrist at Berris Optical in Solon, constant computer work can cause eye stress.
“Prolonged computer work can cause eye strain, tired eyes and dry eyes, all of which can lead to blurred vision, visual discomfort or headaches,” Grant said. “As prolonged computer work is almost a necessity in school and work now, we have to find ways to cope with the additional workload for our eyes.”
Grant explained it is helpful to think of the focusing system like a muscle.
“So, when an individual is focusing on a computer for long periods, they are activating their focusing system, like flexing a muscle, for hours, often with no breaks,” he added, exhausting the focusing system and eyes.
Parents should work to control the increase in their child’s screen time, as many children are already on their devices playing games or talking with friends daily.
“(Parents) can help protect their child’s eyes from digital eye strain, known as computer vision syndrome, by monitoring the time they spend on devices,” Haas noted. “They need to know that long hours looking at a screen can cause their child to develop fluctuating vision, dry eyes, headaches and fatigue. If words are moving on the screen, this may be due to underlying eye issues.”
Haas suggested parents should encourage frequent breaks from computer work. They can create “family times” to break away from the screen more often, having a maximum of two hours on a device at a time. Parents should also set an example, he added.
“They should never use more screen time as a reward for something, either,” Haas said. “Stop their usage at least one hour before bedtime as using these can affect their circadian rhythms and make their brain think it is daylight.”
When using the computer for school or fun, parents should always encourage the 20/20/20 rule, Stoler explained. This is the method where every 20 minutes, they take a break for 20 seconds and stare at something 20 feet away.
“This helps relax the eyes,” she said. “Also, when the child is done with online school, he or she should go outside or do other activities that don’t involve computers or phones for a little while to rest their eyes.”
Stoler also suggested parents invest in blue-blocking glasses for their children. The anti-reflective coating takes the strain off the eyes, making them feel more comfortable and decreases screen glare.
If a child’s eyes aren’t protected, children could experience many short- and long-term effects.
“Research shows that increased screen-time among children causes a much greater risk for developing nearsightedness since there has been a significant increase over the years using devices,” Hass stated. “Children’s eyes can fatigue badly with too much screen time, hindering studying and learning.”
Stoler added, “Prolonged computer/tablet usage has been linked to an increase in nearsightedness, or myopia, over time. Prolonged device usage can also lead to long-term complaints of dry eye. Parents should consider having their children use artificial tears as needed throughout the day. A child that wears contact lenses may also experience more discomfort and fluctuating vision due to their contacts getting dry.”
Grant suggested parents make regular eye appointments a habit, especially while children continue to learn remotely.
“We recommend seeing children for their first eye exam between 6 to 12 months old, then again before preschool and during 1st grade, even if no symptoms are present,” he said. “After that time, annual comprehensive exams are recommended. If your child has complained or you are concerned that they may have symptoms of eyestrain, we recommend they see an eye doctor.”