By Dr. Jeremy Baumfalk
Each year when school starts we see an increase in kids complaining of symptoms of eye strain. Essentially, they’re going from being home over the summer with a minimal amount of time spent using their devices back to a classroom full of technology, and their time on devices often doubles, leading to a strain on the eyes.
According to the American Optometric Association parents severely underestimate the time their children spend on digital devices. Eye doctors are concerned that this significant disparity may indicate that parents are more likely to overlook warning signs and symptoms associated with vision problems due to technology use, such as digital eye strain.
Most kids say they spend at least three hours a day using technology. However, in a separate survey of parents we found that only 40 percent of parents believe their children use an electronic device for that same amount of time. This lack of awareness may indicate that parents are more likely to overlook warning signs and symptoms associated with vision problems due to technology use, like digital eye strain.
Symptoms of digital eye strain include headaches, fatigue, blurred or double vision and dry eye. Each of these symptoms can have a great impact on a student’s comfort and productivity, whether they are at school or home.
The Nebraska Optometric Association suggests following some simple guidelines to prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with digital eye strain:
- Check the height and position of the device. Computer screens should be four to five inches below eye level and about two feet away from the eyes. Digital devices should be held a safe distance away from eyes and slightly below eye level.
- Check 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.
- Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower- watt light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
- Adjust font size. Increase the size of text on the screen of the device to make it easier on the eyes when reading.
- Keep blinking. Frequent blinking helps minimize the chances of developing dry eye when using a computer or digital device by keeping the front surface of the eye moist.
The NOA recommends a comprehensive eye exam prior to heading back to school. And, children now have the benefit of yearly comprehensive eye exams thanks to the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Care Act, through age 18. Comprehensive eye exams are one of the most important investments a parent can make to help maximize their child’s education and contribute to their overall health and well-being.