As children of all ages prepare to return to school or college soon, it’s important for parents to know what steps to take to ensure vision problems don’t occur due to their anticipated prolonged usage of computers, laptops, and other electronic devices.
Understanding ergonomics and the value of vision exams will safeguard your child’s vision to help ensure a proper environment for learning, said Dr. Diana Shiba, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, based in Pasadena.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, I have definitely seen an increased number of patients, including teens and young adults, with vision complaints consistent with ‘digital eye strain,’ or what some call ‘computer vision syndrome,'” she said. “They are complaining of eye soreness, blurred vision, and a gritty and dry sensation in their eyes. Many are also suffering from headaches or even neck pain and stiffness. Research has found that symptoms correlate with the number of hours spent in front of the computer and other electronic devices.”
Several factors can contribute to this, according to Dr. Shiba, who’s also president-elect of the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, the largest Ophthalmology organization in the state. If a child isn’t wearing the right glasses to help them better focus on the computer or read up close, they can develop eye aches or soreness. Their vision may be blurry because they don’t have the correct glasses to help them focus. This can impair a child’s ability to learn effectively and could cause their grades to suffer.
The Importance of Ergonomics
As school or college resumes, many students will spend long periods in front of computers. That’s why understanding good ergonomics matter so much, Dr. Shiba stressed. A computer monitor screen should be positioned so that the top of the monitor is at or just below eye level, and the distance from you should ideally be at arm’s length, or about 25 inches. Also, ensuring that the monitor is not placed at an angle so that you don’t have to tilt or turn your head can make a big difference.
Proper lighting is also crucial, according to Dr. Shiba. Dim light may cause difficulty focusing and eye strain, and too much ambient bright light can cause glare, she explained. Also, taking breaks to relax your eyes will help as well. There is a commonly recommended ’20-20-20 rule,’ where a person takes a break from the computer screen every 20 minutes, and focuses on an object 20 feet away (in the distance) for 20 seconds.
“What this does is it relaxes the muscles in the eyes that are working to help you focus at near, and can especially help with symptoms of eye soreness that can develop with long periods and stretches of reading or being in front of the computer,” Dr. Shiba noted.
The Importance of Eye Exams
According to Dr. Shiba, having the correct prescription and glasses/contact lenses to use if needed should not be underestimated. And that’s why having your child’s eyes checked can be very important.
“Some parents wonder if they should go out and make a special purchase of glasses with ‘blue blocking lenses,’ but research studies are split on this,” Dr. Shiba said. “Such glasses may reduce eye fatigue, but a recent study suggested that blue light-blocking lenses don’t improve symptoms of computer vision syndrome.”
The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue light-block glasses because of the lack of scientific evidence that blue light damages the eyes, Dr. Shiba continued. However, it is generally not harmful if a person is already wearing blue-blocking lenses.
However, Dr. Shiba said blue light could have a damaging effect in another vital area of health: sleep.
“Research has shown that blue light can affect the body’s natural wake and sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm,” she explained. “The best way to prevent affecting the natural sleep cycle is to avoid screen time two to three hours before bedtime. This is especially important for children who may become sleep-deprived and may have difficulty in school the next day. Using the dark or ‘night mode’ on devices in the evening may help as well.”