With COVID-19 and a shift to online learning by many schools, children are spending even more time looking at screens. Staring at digital screens for a long period of time can cause hazy, blurred vision and can make eyes burn and feel dry, itchy and irritated. This condition is known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Other symptoms of digital eye strain can include:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Words moving on the screen (due to underlying eye alignment issues)
What Parents Can Do:
- Monitor screen time. Find some balance between the digital and real world. Two especially important aspects of this are making sure screens don’t cut into:
- Sleep. Not getting enough shut-eye leads to tired, sore eyes. Avoid exposure to screens for 1 hour before going to bed. Using devices past bedtime, especially for violent video games or shows, can interfere with sleep.
- Putting down the device or stepping away from the computer or TV can help avoid eye and vision problems from too much screen time. Children age 6 years and older should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Active play is the best exercise for young children. Outside play can also be a great “workout” for children’s vision—giving them a chance to focus at different distances and getting exposure to natural sunlight.
- Take frequent breaks. Children frequently get so absorbed in what they’re doing that they don’t notice symptoms of eye strain. Remind them to take breaks. Use the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour. A simple timer can help your child remember, and there are even software programs that can help by turning off the screen in regular intervals.
- Remember to blink. Staring at a computer can cut blinking rates by half and cause dry eyes. Encourage your child to try to blink extra, especially when they take breaks. Your pediatrician or eye doctor may recommend moisturizing eye drops or a room humidifier if your child continues to be bothered by dry eyes.
- Screen positioning. Make sure the screen on your child’s desktop or laptop computer is slightly below eye level. Looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out quicker. Some experts suggest positioning device screens based on the 1/2/10 rule: mobile phones ideally at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens (depending on how big the screen is). Adjusting the font size—especially on smaller screens—so it’s twice as big as your child can comfortably read may also help reduce eye fatigue.
- Spotlight on lighting. To cut down on glare and eye fatigue, consider the level of lighting in a room when using a computer or other screen. Ideally, it should be roughly half what it would be for other activities such as writing on paper or working on crafts. Try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures aren’t shining directly on screens. Decrease the brightness of the screen to a more comfortable level for viewing. Some optometrists recommend special computer glasses with orange lenses that may also help reduce glare. Children who wear prescription eyeglasses may have an anti-reflective coating added, as well.
- Get regular vision screenings. If your child is having blurry vision or similar eye problems, he or she may not speak up. That’s why regular vision screenings are important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend children have their eyes checked by a pediatrician at well-child visits beginning at birth. If a problem is found during one of these routine eye exams, your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Children, especially younger ones, will likely need help and reminders to use digital screen devices in an eye-friendly way. If you have any questions about keeping your child’s eyes and vision healthy, talk with your pediatrician.