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What effect does technology have on my child’s eyes?
Medically reviewed by Sharon Copeland on 03 March 2021
Devices such as tablets, televisions, computers, smartphones and other digital viewing devices all make up part of our daily life, as well as part of our children’s daily life. However, all of these devices emit something called “blue light”, high energy light that causes a strain on our eyes and has been linked with the acceleration of age-related macular degeneration.
Extensive digital screen time use is also often linked with cases of dry eye and other irritating conditions, including fluctuating vision, tired eyes dry eye, headache and fatigue. By staring for such a long time at the screen, it essentially means that your child will be blinking at a very reduced rate. Their eyes, therefore, won’t receive the moisture that they need to stay fresh and healthy, making them more susceptible to dry, red and painful eyes.
It isn’t just the threat of them developing dry eyes that you should be wary of, however. Using digital devices results in the eyes having to converge to focus clearly on the screen. To do this, the pupils must contract, which is achieved by the eyes’ muscles. Excessive screen time causes the pupils to constantly contract which will eventually cause the child’s eyes to feel strained. Increased screen time is progressively causing the younger generations to become myopic (short-sighted) this condition requires vision correction in order to see clearly in the distance. Our eyes work best when we look at something in the distance. The closer the object, for example a smart phone, the harder our eyes have to work to focus over time. This effort can add up and contribute to myopia. Myopia can occur as a result of eye strain at the reading distance, especially with prolonged concentration.
Less daily outdoor activities in natural light can contribute to myopia. Being outdoors allows the eyes a break from the computer screen and forces the eyes to focus on objects in the distance rather than up close.
Myopia develops faster in children of younger ages. Early onset of myopia in children is associated with more severe myopia as an adult as the condition progresses. You can do a few things to minimise your child’s chance of developing myopia:
- Your child should have their vision checked prior to starting school and every year thereafter.
- If your child wear’s glasses, ensure they wear them when using a digital screen.
- Ensure there is enough light in the room to read. Also try to reduce glare off the screen from sunlight.
- Every 20 minutes make sure your child takes a 20-second break to stare at something 20 feet away. This gives the eyes time to ‘refresh’ after focusing on objects up close.
- Play outside. Spend equal amounts of time outdoors and indoors. Research shows that two hours a day of outdoor play can help prevent myopia.
- Limit use. Try to limit your child’s use of digital devices to under two hours a day.
What is Computer Vision Syndrome?
By your child spending too much time on their computer or using their smartphone or tablet they can also be putting their eyes at risk from Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) also sometimes known as digital eye strain. This short-term condition can be painful and very uncomfortable to put up with. Symptoms of CVS often include:
- Eye strain or fatigue
- Eye twitching
- Physical tiredness
- Red eyes
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry eye
- Eye discomfort
- Eye fatigue
- Eye itching
- Eye redness
- Eye tearing
What can I do to reduce the effects of technology on my child’s eyes?
One of the easiest ways to reduce the strain that technology can put your child’s eyes under is to simply limit the amount of time you allow them to spend using their smartphone, laptop, iPad or other digital device.
This isn’t just a good idea for keeping their eyes safe from strain and CVS, it’s also beneficial for a number of other reasons. Research has shown that children who spend more time away from screens, taking part in sport, playing outside and enjoying other activities tend to be happier, healthier and have a range of more developed skills, mentally, physically and socially.
Steps you can take to ensure your child’s eyes do stay safe during screen use, however, include matching their screen to the light condition in the room. Set the brightness high if they’re in a well-lit room, or low if they’re in a dark room to limit the effects that blue light can be having on your child’s eyes.
When it comes to how they sit when they use their devices, it’s best for your child to be sat comfortably with the computer screen at least an arm’s length from their face. Their neck should be balanced, and not tilted forward or back, while the screen should be slightly below eye level.
Another way to limit the amount of blue light that your child is receiving when using the computer is to purchase an anti-reflective coating or screen to apply. Sitting on top of the screen, this feature will ease the pressure that blue light puts on your little one’s eyes.
To reduce the risk of dry eyes and developing CVS, you can teach your child “the 20-20-20 rule”. The rule goes that every 20 minutes, they should look away from the screen for 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away. This handy trick is easy to learn, and to remember, and will keep their eyes hydrated and feeling fresh during screen use. Before they start school, make sure your kids have a comprehensive eye exam – including an assessment of their near-point (computer and reading) vision skills.
Make sure your child’s computer workspace is arranged to suit their body size. For children, the recommended distance between the monitor and the eye is 18 to 28 inches to avoid risk of eyestrain. Also, the screen should be a few inches below the child’s eyes. The chair should be adjusted so your child’s arms are parallel with the desk surface and their feet rest comfortably on the floor. These adjustments help avoid posture problems and strained muscles.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of vision problems, such as eye redness, frequent rubbing of the eyes, head turns and other unusual postures or complaints of blurriness or eye fatigue. Avoidance of the computer or schoolwork may also indicate a vision problem.
Which digital devices are worst for eyes?
The type of device doesn’t have much of a say in the effect that use will have on eyes, rather it’s down to the size and brightness of the screen. Smaller and darker screens will be harder to look at, meaning that your child’s eyes will need to focus harder on them, therefore becoming more susceptible to eye strain and CVS.
The number of digital devices that they use over the course of the day is an important factor as well. If they’re using multiple devices for long hours without breaks and switching from different lighting levels, this can place a heavy strain on their eyes.
Quick links:A guide to age related macular degeneration (AMD)
A guide to red eyes
A guide to itchy eyes