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With the use of technology among children both at home and in the classroom is on the rise, and a new survey from the American Optometric Association (AOA) shows that parents drastically underestimate the time their children spend on digital devices. The reports revealed the 83 percent of children ages 10-17 use an electronic device for 3+ hours per day, with 80 percent of surveyed children reporting that they experience burning, itchy and/or tired eyes after using these devices for long periods of time. Did you know that these are all symptoms of digital eye strain? Optometrists are also growing concerned with the effects of light everyday electronic devices give off (high-energy, short-wavelength blue light) and how those rays might affect and even age the eyes.
So what can we do as parents? In a lot of cases technology is essential to our child’s student career and even as adults we seem to be simply immersed in technology. Look around next time you’re out. How many pairs of eye balls do you see glued to their smartphone screens? When it comes to protecting eyes and vision from digital eye strain, taking frequent visual breaks is important. Here is what the American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends to help prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with digital eye strain and exposure to blue light:
- Children should make sure they practice the 20-20-20 rule: when using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
- Checking the height and position of the device. Computer screens should be four to five inches below eye level and 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes. Digital devices should be held a safe distance away from eyes and slightly below eye level.
- Checking for glare on the screen. Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of a computer monitor. If this happens, turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen. Also consider adjusting the brightness of the screen on your digital device or changing its background color.
- Reducing the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
- Adjusting font size. Increase the size of text on the screen of the device to make it easier on your eyes when reading.
- Keep blinking. Frequent blinking reduces the chances for developing dry eye by keeping the front surface of the eye moist.
Seeing how poor vision has affected my child, I urge all parents to set sometime within this busy back to school season to get your child an eye exams by an optometrist. The AOA recommends every child have an eye exam by an optometrist soon after six months of age, before age three and every year thereafter. I, unfortunately, waited too long to have my son evaluated the first time. I can’t help but wonder if his vision issues would have been noted earlier by an optometrist, would his vision loss have been so bad?
Please note, children now have the benefit of yearly comprehensive eye exams thanks to the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Act, through age 18.