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Protecting your child’s eye health in the digital age

Protecting your child’s eye health in the digital age

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By Dr. Sara Thompson

May 27 2019

It seems that everywhere I go I see children on tablets and smartphones.  Even though this new technology is quite useful and exciting, many parents wonder what the ramifications are?  How are these devices impacting our children’s eye development and health?  How do we as parents, use them safely?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screen time other than video chatting under 18 months old.  Parents can choose to introduce digital media at 18-24 months as long as it is high-quality programs, which the parents must watch with their children pointing out what they see to increase their understanding and learning. Screen time must be limited to 1 hour per day from ages 2-5.

One of the ways prolonged digital screen time can affect your child’s eyes is called computer vision syndrome or digital eyestrain.  The most common symptoms are eyestrain, headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes or neck and shoulder pain.

When eyes look at these digital devices they have to work harder and also are battling a reduction in contrast, glare, reflections and blue light, which increases fatigue.  There is also up to a 70% reduction in the blink rate.  Blinking stimulates tear production and spreads the tears over the eyes keeping them moist and healthy.  Without this,
tears evaporate off the eye quicker and are not continuously replenished causing dry eye and inflammation.

In order to prevent digital eyestrain, it is important to bring your child in for a yearly eye exam to rule out any refractive error which would need to be corrected with glasses or another eye condition like
a lazy eye or eye turn which effects the way your child’s eyes work together as a team.

Warning signs of this include holding the tablet too close, squinting, headaches, eye rubbing,
closing one eye, an eye that turns in or out or even a family history of wearing glasses.

It is important for your child to have good lighting and for you to reduce glare as much as possible.  Make sure overhead lighting is turned down and the window is not in front or directly behind your child.  If this is the case turn room lighting down and close blinds.  An anti-glare screen especially one that is blue blocking protects your child’s eyes from strain.

It is also important to have a proper viewing distance.  The American Optometric Association recommends that the computer distance should be
about 20-28 inches away and 4-5 inches below eye level, which is about 15-20 degrees.  When it comes to children you want to measure Harmon’s distance for all near activities, which is the distance from the
elbow to the middle knuckle.

It is important for your child to take frequent breaks. The rule of 20s says to give your eyes a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look 20 feet away.  With children schedule physical breaks so they can walk around and change their view or as the parent you can set your self up in the distance and get their attention for 20 seconds.

Make sure you adjust to proper settings on devices.  The contrast should be set to high and devices checked for a blue light nighttime setting, which adds warmer tones.  Blue light from devices does not just cause eyestrain but also can affect your child’s sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screens should be turned off 30 minutes before bed.

Following these guidelines will allow you and your child to navigate the digital age successfully without worry.  You can feel confident that your are doing the right thing as a parent and keeping those little eyes safe and protected.

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