Eye Health Central

Children and Digital Eye Strain

Children and Digital Eye Strain

Children LaptopsAccording to the Pew Research Center, cell phone use among youth has become the accepted norm. Almost three quarters of all teens have or have access to a smart phone, with 24 percent of teens reporting they are online "almost constantly." This reliance on the tiny screens and even smaller type, sometimes for hours a day, is definitely a contributing factor to digital eye strain. If you or your child is constantly using a small device, the strain placed on your eyes can be uncomfortable and cause annoying vision issues.

In fact, myopia is now twice as common in children in the UK now as it was in the 1960s, and 20% of UK teens are now myopic. The numbers of children becoming myopic has resulted in talk among professionals of a myopia epidemic.

What is Digital Eye Strain?

Digital eye strain is also called computer vision syndrome, and eye strain itself is called aesthenopia. It can be caused by staring at a screen for long periods of time, although people who already suffer from dry eyes may notice symptoms after only ten or fifteen minutes on the computer. Symptoms can include:

  • Red, dry and irritated eyes.
  • Blurry or "wavy" vision in one or both eyes.
  • Fatigue or excessive yawning.
  • Headaches and migraines, especially focused around or behind the eyes.
  • Neck and shoulder pain.
  • Seeing the words moving on the screen when they are stationary. This is usually noticed in individuals who have issues with their binocular vision anyway, but can happen to anyone.

What causes Digital Eye Strain?

Our eyes are meant to move. They are controlled by several sets of muscles and slide around easily in their sockets. When we use electronic devices, our eyes are not moving much and our rate of blinking slows down, in addition to narrowing our focal field. After several hours of this, the strain on the muscles responsible can become too great. This leads to the discomfort and dry eyes associated with eye strain. As with any over-use injury, the pain can radiate, causing other symptoms you may not even realize are being caused by the eye strain, such as migraines and neck pain.

Avoiding Digital Eye Strain in Children and Adults

There are many different strategies you can use to avoid digital eye strain in both children and in adults. Making some changes can go quite far against combating the condition and ensuring it doesn't return.

Get an Eye Exam
Digital eye strain can be made much worse if you are wearing a prescription that isn't proper for you. If you don't wear corrective lenses at all, you may still benefit from wearing magnifying lenses while using your devices for long periods. Corrective lenses can also cut down on glare, which can contribute to eye strain and the symptoms. Talk to your optometrist about your eye strain so that he or she can get you some appropriate vision correction.

Minimize the Glare and Use Proper Light
If you or your child is constantly peering at your device's screen through the reflection of a lamp or you have the backlighting turned down constantly, correct these issues. The same can be said for smeared, dirty screens that may make the content harder to see. To reduce strain, make sure your devices are properly lit and backlit, as well as free of oils from your hands and fingerprints.

Remember to Blink
One of the mot common symptoms of digital eye strain is dry, irritated eyes. To combat this, try to remember to blink more often and don't sit on your device in front of a fan or open window. If dryness persists, consider asking your optometrist about wetting drops to help keep your eyes moist and comfortable.

Limit the Time You Spend on Small Devices
If you know you need to do a lot of work online, such as reading a textbook or watching a missed episode of your favorite show, consider using your desktop computer or laptop. If you are spending time online out of boredom, consider taking up a hobby that will help you get away from hours of screen time. If your child only has a phone and needs the Internet for school, consider sharing a computer or laptop or getting your child one of their own. The larger screen of a computer or laptop can help ease the strain on the eyes, as well as offer a wider focal field. Even a hand-held tablet is better than using a smart phone for hours.

Take Breaks During Usage
remind yourself and your children to look away and refocus elsewhere wile using a device. This allows your muscles to relax and your eyes to refocus. Some people find it helpful to look out a window or focus on a piece of art across the room. Avoid spending hours hunched over your device. Get up and stretch your body, as well, at least once every half hour or so. During your breaks, you may want to do some light stretching to avoid back, neck and shoulder pain.

Take Tasks Offline, if Possible
If you or your child is in school and have online textbooks, you may be tempted to do all of your reading on your phone. After all, it's very convenient! However, this isn't ideal for your eyes. Consider taking an afternoon to download your books, projects and other source materials and printing them out. This way, you control the font size. It's also easier on the eyes to read from a paper source than it is to stare at a backlit screen.

Digital eye strain isn't harmful to vision on its own, but the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and distressing, and the long term affects have yet to be seen. If you or your child is showing signs of eye strain, contact your local optometrist and schedule an appointment or bring it up during your next (regular) eye exam.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 26 Jun 2017, Last modified: 11 Sep 2020