Online learning and the strain it’s putting on the eyes of children
What you can do to help your child…
There have are many reasons for you to set some limits on the time your children spend in front of screens, or “screen time”, and instead encourage your kids to play outside and indulge in some healthy activity, better their sleeping habits and partake in healthy social activities with their peers. Teaching them about. eye care is another.
As many of us zoom into zoom calls in this virtual school year, screen time will only increase, as will the greater risk of strain on children’s developing focal systems. This article will help us better understand the risk of too much screen time on children’s vision, and what parents can do to help kids practice healthy eye-care habits during virtual and online learning.
Eye problems because of excess screen time
Many parents have asked us if staring for long hours at screens can harm their children’s eyes. Here we’ll explain some ways screen time can affect the eyes of a child.
“Eye fatigue” which is also called “asthenopia”, is characterised by discomfort in the eyes, dimming vision and headaches. Asthenopia can happen due to over exerting/overusing of the eyes, like long periods of time spent focusing on a screen. Any glare which reflects from the screen strains the eyes further. Children suffering from fatigue often complain of feeling generally tired and lose interest in tasks like reading and writing, often due to the headaches or even eye pain they experience.
Dryness and Irritation in the eyes
Long hours of screen time cause dryness and irritation in the eyes. Studies have shown people of all ages blink far fewer times while watching or focusing on a screen, which causes the eyes to dry up. A stable clear “tear film” on the surface of the eye is essential for clear vision. The use of screens has resulted in dry eyes even in small children though this condition was primarily seen predominantly in old age earlier.
Difficulty in readjusting focus, or focus flexibility
When their eyes stay focused on screens up close for long periods of time, children could also find it hard to adjust their focus to far off things or distance vision. This can lead to blurred vision and a condition called “accommodative spasm” resulting in headaches, eyestrains and fatigue.
Help your child practice good eye care
Even if screen time can’t be avoided because of schooling, you can still protect your child’s eyes by instructing them to practice the following habits:
The 20-20-20 rule
Whenever your child is reading, writing or even staring at a screen, there is a near focus demand on their eyes’ microscopic focusing system. Also, we usually blink less when we focus on bright screens, which can cause the eyes to dry up.
Children can practice the “20-20-20” rule where they take a break after
every 20 minute of screen time and focus on anything at 20 feet distance for 20 seconds. This will relax the eyes and help them return to their natural position, your children can start using a timer to measure breaks, especially during recreational screen use. It is imperative that the child looks as far away as possible during these breaks so as to relax the focussing muscles of the eyes. It is a good idea to get them to look out of a window or balcony.
2 hours of physical activity outside the house is very important. Studies have shown that about 2 hours of outdoor activity is required to reduce the ill effects of screens and prevent near – sightedness or myopia (minus – powered spectacles). During regular school, children get sunlight during activities like breaks, sports etc. Without school, it’s even more important for you to schedule breaks for your child and encourage outdoor activity.
Ideal screen size and distance
The smaller and closer a screen; the more your child’s eyes work to focus. If possible, get your child to work on a large screen, like a laptop or desktop, rather than a phone. We recommend that the screen be at least two feet away for avoiding eye strain. If the child can perform the requisite activities by casting them onto a television and sitting 10 feet away, that would be the best. However, it is important the room is always well lit.
If your child continues to insist that he/she be closer to screens; you may have to consult an eye specialist to check your child’s eyesight. Often, children tend to get close to screens as they cannot see well.
Get rid of glare
The more reflection coming out from your child’s computer screen, the more the strain on the eyes. Make sure you set the screen’s brightness to low in the settings on your child’s computer and other devices, and keep a lookout for glare using screen in a dark/dimly lit room is definitely strain-inducing and should be avoided.
Get your child’s eyes examined regularly
You should make regular eye examinations part of your child’s regular healthcare check-ups. Your child’s vision is a constantly developing sense and it should be screened and tested in a timely manner to ensure the best for your child. All children must have an eye screening done at least when they start formal schooling.
Even children who get normal vision screenings can experience asthenopia. If your child is complaining about headaches, dryness or irritation in the eyes, or pain, it’s important to schedule a proper eye examination with an ophthalmologist. Other than need for glasses, children can have eye muscle weakens called “convergence insufficiency” that may require some eye exercise presented by the eye doctor. Also, it is important to detect any “lazy eye” that may be a result of spectacle powers or other reasons. Lazy eye can be treated effectively only in early childhood. Comprehensive eye tests evaluate the structure and overall health of the eye, checking for underlying problems that may have developed in your child’s vision. As always, prevention, early detection and treatment give best results.
Dr. Vidya Nair Chaudhry
Comprehensive ophthalmology, pediatric ophthalmology and squint, oculoplasty, glaucoma and retina