Digital Screens Wreak Havoc on the Eyes: Know How to Protect Your Vision and Your Child’s
As most parents will attest, the amount of time kids spend plugged in is excessive. There are many good reasons for parents’ alarm.
First, despite the amount of time kids spend on social media, the activity is isolating. Also, the sedentary nature of watching television or using other digital devices increases the likelihood of childhood obesity. Then there’s the widespread problem that being constantly plugged in is linked to decreased attention spans.
But there are other issues many parents aren’t familiar with. Digital screens also cause eye damage and vision problems. One of these problems is called computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain.
Most concerning, however, is the permanent damage caused by blue light. Both of these eye problems affect kids and adults alike.
Digital Eye Strain
Computer vision syndrome, as the American Optometric Association explains, is eye discomfort and vision problems that result from extended viewing of computer screens, e-readers, tablets, and cellphones. With this condition, the more time spent on digital devices, the greater the discomfort becomes.
According to the Vision Council, the symptoms of computer vision syndrome include eye strain, dry eyes, headache, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.
Fortunately, there are several solutions to prevent or cure computer vision syndrome. The first is to set limits on daily leisure media use for your child.
In 2016, because of the numerous adverse effects of media consumption, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced recommendations for children’s media use as follows:
• For children 18 months or younger, limit screen media exclusively to video-chatting.
• From 18-24 months, look for high-quality programming. Although the APA doesn’t specify an amount of time for this age group, less than one hour a day can be presumed based on the next age group.
• For ages 2-5 years, allow no more than one hour a day of media.
• Kids ages 6 and older should have consistent limits for their total media time plus specific limits on various types of media. The APA, in recognizing each family and child is different, hasn’t set a standard amount of time for this age group. However, outside of family media activities and homework, kids should spend only a small fraction of their day plugged in.
Another way to protect against computer vision syndrome is by wearing computer eyeglasses. If you or your child experiences symptoms of digital eye strain, make an appointment with an optometrist for a vision check and to discuss screen use to determine if computer glasses are the right choice.
There are also several other ways to reduce eye strain while using digital devices. When using a computer, the screen should be positioned at an arm’s distance away. Increasing the font size helps to reduce strain as well. Also, to eliminate glare, reduce overhead lighting.
Finally, follow the easy-to-remember 20-20-20 rule recommended by the AOA. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second screen break by looking at something 20 feet away.
Blue Light Hazards
In addition to computer vision syndrome, exposure to blue light is another hazard of digital screens. Blue light comes from many sources, including and primarily sunlight as well as LED and fluorescent lighting. But smartphones, flat-screen TVs, computers, and electronic notebooks also emit significant amounts of blue light.
The reason this is a problem is that our eyes cannot block blue light. As a result, it penetrates the eye lens and cornea and reaches the retina. Prolonged exposure to blue light likely contributes to macular degeneration and vision loss.
Harvard Medical School found that blue light affects the circadian rhythm and throws off the body’s biological clock as well.
In fact, as reported in the Harvard Health Letter, “Blue light has a dark side,” nighttime light exposure appears to be particularly unhealthy. Numerous studies have linked exposure to light at night (while working the night shift) with breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
But our eyes aren’t the only thing impacted by blue light. Harvard researchers also point out that even dim light affects people’s circadian rhythm and interferes with melatonin secretion. The resulting lack of sleep then increases the risk for depression.
In addition to minimizing screen time, as suggested for reducing digital eye strain, there are several other ways to reduce your and your child’s exposure to blue light.
Shut down devices with digital screens two to three hours before bed, if possible, or at least dim the screen light in the evenings. If your child requires a nightlight, use a dim red light, which has the least impact on the circadian rhythm and the eyes.
If you or your child spends a lot of time on digital devices, stays up late, or works the night shift, wear blue-blocking glasses to reduce the likelihood of damage to your eyes or throwing your circadian rhythm out of balance. BW
Kimberly Blaker is a lifestyle and parenting freelance writer and blogger. You can visit her blog, The Young Gma’s Guide to Parenting, at www.theyounggma.com.