The amount of time individuals are spending on screens is increasing, and so is the risk of long-term eye health implications.
As a doctor of optometry, I personally have seen the impact that prolonged screen time can have on my patients’ eye health. With gaming and social media scrolling on the rise, so is the risk of long-term eye health implications — particularly for children whose visual systems are still developing.
The fact is, children are spending more time now than ever using screens. A survey conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA) last year found that more than half of parents (55%) say their children spend at least three hours each day consuming digital media — a 10% increase from 2018. Those results also revealed that 73% of parents are concerned about their children’s extended usage of electronic devices.
Digital eye strain
Digital eye strain, also referred to as computer vision syndrome, describes a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of digital devices, such as computers, tablets, e-readers, and cell phones. Excessive screen time requires the eyes to work harder up close, and this “heavy lifting” can lead to headaches, double vision, poor sleeping, and may even affect a child’s concentration. In addition, blink rate tends to decrease heavily when we spend time staring at screens, which can result in issues like dry eyes and blurred vision. Any uncorrected eye errors, like being far-sighted in one or both eyes, will also be exacerbated with digital device use, especially when used up close, like handheld tablets and gaming systems.
It’s important for parents to be aware of how much time their kids spend on their screens and be on the lookout for any warning signs of potential eye issues, including constant eye rubbing, excessive tearing, light sensitivity or wandering eyes. Practicing healthier screen time habits and setting appropriate time limits are essential to optimal long-term eye health.
Healthy vision habits
Here are a few steps to help prevent digital eye strain:
- Schedule annual in-person comprehensive eye exams with a doctor of optometry for you and your family.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away. This simple habit can help the eyes refocus and prevent dry eyes.
- Minimize glare on the computer screen by repositioning the screen or adjusting your brightness to match your environment — a brighter screen in bright lighting or dimmer screen in dim lighting.
- Maintain a comfortable viewing distance from screens by being at least 13 to 20 inches away from a smartphone, small tablet, or laptop, and more than 20 inches away from a full-size laptop or computer monitor.
If your child is spending several hours a day looking at digital screens and/or experiencing symptoms, it’s important to speak with a doctor of optometry to keep your children’s eyes healthy offline, so they can continue to stay online doing what they love.
For more information, book an appointment with an AOA doctor of optometry near you at AOA.org.