Electronic Eyestrain—Ways to keep your kids’ eyesight in sharp focus

September 2014 View more

NMAG914_Health_iStock_000010650014Large_800pxIt seems as though more and more kids are in need of eye glasses at a younger and younger age. And their prescriptions keep getting stronger with each visit to the eye doctor. As it turns out, American children are among those with the highest risk of developing serious eyestrain. So what’s robbing children of 20/20 vision? Could screen time be a factor?

Let’s face it, with new technology popping up all around us, our children spend much more time than we ever did staring at digital screens. The National Eye Institute found a 66 percent increase in nearsightedness for all ages since the early ‘70s, around the same time electronic devices started invading our homes.

Digital eyestrain goes hand-in-hand with screen time. Researches found that the more time children spent staring at electronic devices, the more symptoms of eyestrain became all too common such as irritated eyes, blurry vision, problems focusing and headaches.

At Close Range

Focusing on computers, tablets, and smart phones at a close range, may be taking a toll on our kids’ eyesight. “Some studies have shown that increased focus has contributed to nearsightedness,” said Dr. Robert Steinmetz, optometrist and owner of Solo Eyecare and Eyewear Gallery. Dr. Steinmetz says in the past, patients developed nearsightedness during the middle school years. “Recently we’re seeing more and more children come in with nearsightedness in first, second, and third grade. This is certainly an increase in the last several years in my opinion. And I think our children are spending a lot more time on those devices. Holding them closer to the eyes and becoming increasingly focused on these devices, is putting additional strain on the visual system.”

What Can Parents Do?

Dr. Steinmetz says electronic devices can provide great educational benefits, even for his own young boys. However, using them on a limited basis and in the correct way is key. You can do that by making sure your child maximizes the distance between their eyes and the device. Here’s how you do it. Imagine you’re about to punch yourself in the chin. The space between the knuckles and the elbow is the perfect distance you need between your eyes and the device. This is not only a great idea for your children, but it’s also good practice for adults as well.

The 20-20-20 Rule

You don’t have to ban your children from electronics, just set up some boundaries. “I like patients and parents particularly to follow the 20-20-20 rule, which means that for every 20 minutes they spend on the device, I like them to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This decreases the visual strain on their eyes,” said Dr. Steinmetz.

Go Outside and Play

Time limits are an obvious way to control how many minutes your child will focus on that screen. “Any kind of screen or device that they’re viewing up close for a long period of time certainly causes an increased strain on their focusing system,” said Dr. Steinmetz. “I think particularly important is that a lot of the time spent on these screens is spent indoors and large scale studies have shown that children who spend more time outdoors are significantly less likely to become nearsighted than those children who are indoors focusing on those devices,” said Dr. Steinmetz.

Another possible reason for the increase in nearsightedness is that Illinois now requires comprehensive eye exams for all children before entering kindergarten. “We now have greater access to this population. We are now seeing children at the kindergarten age. So we’re now able to get these children in the office, make an accurate diagnosis and then get them the help they need,” said Dr. Steinmetz.