Is Your Student at Risk for Digital Eye Strain and Fatigue?

With an ever-increasing amount of technology in schools, back-to-school season can mean more screen time, and that puts kids at risk for digital eye strain and fatigue.

What is Digital Eye Strain?

From the moment we wake up until our heads hit the pillow, our eyes are hard at work, and that’s especially true of staring at digital devices. With the numerous screens that support our tech-centric lifestyles, it’s no wonder digital eye strain is on the rise.

Also known as Computer Vision Syndrome, digital eye strain is a repetitive movement injury that stems specifically from the use of screens. Sufferers may experience eye soreness, tiredness, burning, watering, dryness, or itchiness. Eye strain can lead to light sensitivity, headaches, and difficulty focusing ― all of which can pose classroom challenges for kids.

What causes Digital Eye Fatigue?

While digital eye fatigue is common among adults who work long days behind the computer, all those who use screens are susceptible ― and is there anyone left in our modern world who doesn’t spend at least a portion of their day in front of some type of screen?

Though we may feel like we vary our usage by switching from computer to smartphone to tablet, screens of all types challenge the human eye. Staring at a screen forces eye muscles to work overtime as they continuously shift, adjust, and refocus. So the more screen time we spend, the more likely we are to experience symptoms of digital eye strain.

Is my child at risk?

It’s not only adults who spend long days plugged in: Kids are constantly connected, too. As children return to the classroom after a summer of outdoor play, their screen time often doubles, says Lori Roberts, O.D., chair of the American Optometric Association (AOA) New Technology Committee. “Each year when school starts,” she reports, “we see an increase in kids complaining of symptoms synonymous with eye strain.”

Parents tend to underestimate the total amount of time their kids spend staring at screens, which is an additional concern. According to an AOA survey, more than 80{8cb8ae75a2353f328bdfbf37d62530eb7b1d5bd7514b56b88e0738f83bc0f1b3} of children ages 10 to 17 estimate they use an electronic device for more than three hours each day, but only 40{8cb8ae75a2353f328bdfbf37d62530eb7b1d5bd7514b56b88e0738f83bc0f1b3} of parents think their kids use an electronic device for that amount of time. This discrepancy may cause parents to overlook or undervalue kids’ complaints of common eye fatigue symptoms.

If your children use screens regularly, evaluate the way they use them:

  • Are they spending long hours engrossed without breaks?
  • Is their posture poor?
  • Do they use screens in low lighting?

All of these factors can contribute to eye strain and fatigue. Also, if kids need glasses ― or have them but don’t wear them ― or if they have a history of vision problems, they may be at higher risk for digital eye strain.

How you and your child can prevent Digital Eye Strain

Now that school has begun talk to your child about screen time. Let kids know that screen time can cause eyes to become itchy, watery, blurry, or feel like they are burning, and that they should tell you if they experience these symptoms. Ensure they eat a balanced diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables full of antioxidants, and encourage regular exercise to improve circulation, which increases oxygen delivery to the eyes and supports eye health. Remind them to wear hats and sunglasses when they go outside, to protect from both UV-A and UV-B rays.

The same AOA survey that highlighted parents’ tendency to underestimate kids’ screen time also found that over 33{8cb8ae75a2353f328bdfbf37d62530eb7b1d5bd7514b56b88e0738f83bc0f1b3} of kids who use screens wait over an hour before taking a break. When your child does use screens, make sure lighting and posture are good, and teach kids how to implement the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen, focus on something 20 feet away, and keep your gaze there for about 20 seconds.

If your child is already complaining about eye pain or strain, call our office to schedule a comprehensive eye exam to rule out obvious problems including the need for new or updated prescription glasses. Your child may benefit from special computer glasses with a screen-specific prescription and unique lens coatings that filter out blue light (the kind emitted by screens). Be sure to ask your optometrist whether he or she recommends computer glasses for your child, too.