Walk into any medical practice with a waiting room and you will see patients of all ages looking down at their digital devices. So now that more than a decade has passed since handheld devices have become an appendage to our hands, what have we learned?
This week, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics released findings of a new study that shows that screen time for kids under two years of age has increased from 1 hour a day in 1997 to 3+ hours a day in 2014. How is this significant? Pediatricians recommend zero screen time for children under 18 months. There is still much to learn but what we are sure of is that screen time changes the structure and function of the brain.
Optometrists and Ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in eye care – are seeing a marked increase in children with dry eye and eye strain from too much screen time. It’s a fact that there is a world-wide epidemic of myopia, also known as nearsightedness. Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness in the US nearly doubled, to 42 percent. In Asia, up to 90 percent of teenagers and adults are nearsighted. So what can we do?
Here are 10 tips to help protect your child’s eyes from computer eyestrain:
- Set a kitchen timer or a smart device timer to remind them.
- Take frequent breaks. We call this the 20/20/20 rule. Teach them to look at something 20 feet away from their screens for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Although it would be best to take a break and go outdoors for optimal relaxation of focusing!
- Position your screen to minimize glare. Do not tilt it upward.
- Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, as the glare on the screen can create strain.
- Invest in computer eyewear with an anti-reflective lens that can also be combined with a specially formulated coating that blocks and selectively absorbs blue light.
- Use good posture when using a computer and when reading.
- Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away, 18 to 24 inches is ideal.
- Create a distraction that causes your child to look up every now and then.
- Remind them to blink when watching a screen.
- Have annual eye exams.
Sources: Vision Source, American Academy of Ophthalmologists, Chen W, Adler JL. Assessment of Screen Exposure in Young Children, 1997 to 2014. JAMA Pediatr. Published online February 18, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5546