The UK summer holidays are nearly here, leaving more than 9 million kids with nothing to do. Working parents across the country may need to entertain their kids at home, granting them the freedom to indulge in excessive TV watching, playing video games, and spending far more time than necessary on tablets. A lot of entertainment is based on screens nowadays and, with the cost-of-living crisis taking its toll, it is a cheap boredom buster option for many families.
But too much screen time comes with a different price. Excessive screen time could cause children to develop computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain. The symptoms for which include headaches, dry eyes and blurry vision.
Nimmi Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct, explains what computer vision syndrome is and provides some tips on how to avoid it.
What is computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain)?
Computer vision syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain or digital visual syndrome (DVS), is a term given to a set of symptoms that can arise from using digital devices for a long time. Looking at a screen that emits intense light while having to focus and defocus at different distances requires an accommodative effort for many hours at a time. This, in addition to glare from screens, can be harmful to kids’ eye health.
Just for adults, spending more than three hours a day looking at a phone, computer or tablet is enough time to negatively impact eye health.
In the UK, a child spends 6.3 hours in front of screens – probably even more during the holidays. Children are particularly susceptible to CVS due to their developing visual systems and often lack awareness about their screen usage habits.
That excessive amount of screen time can result in potentially serious eye health problems.
What are the symptoms of computer vision syndrome?
- Eye fatigue. Due to the prolonged accommodative effort demanded of our eyes without sufficient breaks, this can lead to eye fatigue which presents as blurred vision and tired eyes.
- Dry eye. Dry eye is one of the most common symptoms of CVS. Recent studies have shown that when we use a screen we tend to blink less, which means your eyes get less lubrication, end up with eye dryness and leave them feeling sore and tired.
- Headache. The intense light and the pressure to which our eyes are subjected continuously can cause more headaches which can make focusing or going about daily tasks a little more difficult.
- Photophobia. CVS can also be responsible for the development of hypersensitivity to light, both natural and artificial – not something you want as we head into the longer days of summer.
It’s also important to remember that screens emit blue light which interrupts and reduces the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Extended screen exposure can therefore cause disruptions to sleeping patterns and quality. Lack of sleep is something that can also negatively impact eye health.
Tips to avoid or treat digital eye strain in children
The summer break is long, we know. And the struggle to pry children away from screens when they spend their time at home seems like a lost battle even before it begins. However, there are small habits you can adopt to minimize the impact on your child’s eyes and prevent digital strain.
- Appropriate distance from screens. When it comes to eye health ergonomics plays a key role. The screen or monitor should be at least between 50 and 65 cm away from your child. It should also be more or less at eye level to avoid neck problems. The monitor and keyboard should be positioned in a straight line.
- Screen with good resolution. Watching a screen that has a good resolution and is of good quality is necessary to avoid eye strain. When it comes to the actual display on the monitor, having a high-resolution panel (a minimum of 1080p, if not 4K), along with strong RGB colour accuracy settings, and a non-LED panel is what is recommended as better for your eyes.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. To combat and prevent the symptoms of digital eye strain your child should be reminded to incorporate the 20-20-20 rule into daily routine. This involves looking away from the screen every 20 minutes to look for 20 seconds at a fixed point 20 feet away. This exercise will relieve the stress on your eyes and force the habit of taking screen breaks. Why not make it a game and have funny pictures up on the wall to give them a fixed point to look at.
- Using eye drops. If your child is already experiencing discomfort in their eyes as a result of digital eye strain, then having artificial tears on hand will allow your child to manage the discomfort of dry eyes. However, be aware that not all children will be accepting of having drops administered. Some safe options for kids’ eye drops include artificial tears, antihistamines, low-dose atropine drops, and dilating eye drops
- Conscious blinking. When we are concentrating or staring at screens, we often forget to blink without even realising. Forcing your child to blink is a handy exercise to alleviate dryness and eye strain.
- Take your child to an ophthalmologist. In more severe cases in which the symptoms persist in a severe and prolonged manner, you should make an appointment with a specialist.
- Have an eye examination. If your child spends a lot of time in front of screens and you see that they are squinting or rubbing their eyes, it’s vital to have their eyes tested.
- Screen detox. We know that it is easier to keep your child happy during the summer break by giving them their screen time but keeping them busy in other ways is much more important.
In our increasingly digitised world where electronic devices command significant real estate in our daily lives, it becomes crucial to ensure we are not neglecting the health and well-being of our eyes, and more importantly, those of our children.
We can achieve this by meticulously incorporating a balanced routine that intersperses periods of screen time with diverse, stimulating activities such as drawing, building, exploring the great outdoors, and more. This offers not only a beneficial break for their eyes, but also a refreshing burst of creativity and physical movement, critical for their overall development.
Initial attempts to impose a digital detox or screen time limits may indeed be met with a modicum of resistance. Nevertheless, perseverance in this endeavor is key. Over time, the protesting will give way to acceptance, and their eyes, now relieved from the relentless exposure to digital screens, will certainly thank you for it.
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