Between distance learning and the boredom of being stuck at home, many parents have struggled with policing their kids’ screen time during this global pandemic.
According to the Vision Council, a non-profit that does vision research, more than 70 percent of American adults report their children receive more than two hours of screen time per day.
Dr. Ella Faktorovich, an ophthalmologist and founder of San Francisco’s Pacific Vision Institute, says increased time in front digital devices coupled with less time outdoors can cause serious problems for kids later in life. Faktorovich recently spoke with Bay Area Parent about eye conditions caused by too much screen time and how to prevent them.
How can increased screen time harm children’s eyes?
I think there is a situation now with children having to stay home a lot and not going outside that really sets them up for problems. Digital eye strain, or eye fatigue, is a reversable condition. The child may complain of blurry vision. They may be tired a lot. They may squint their eyes a lot. You take them outside and they may not be able to see certain things.
But it (digital eye strain) can lead to irreversible changes that can happen in the eye. Many studies have shown that increased “near” work – spending a lot time looking at things up close and decreased time outside – can lead to a lot of changes in eyes. The eyes can become myopic, or nearsighted. With that, potentially there can be problems that can occur later in life when they are adults like retinal detachment and glaucoma. The risk of these problems is even higher in families where parents are nearsighted. People who are nearsighted are more at risk for blinding conditions.
What are the warning signs?
The child may complain of blurry vision. They may say, “My eyes hurt.” Headaches. There could be difficulty concentrating or they’re tired a lot. It could be poor posture from being too near to the computer. Squinting. The light may bother their eyes. Wandering eyes.
What can parents do to prevent these eye conditions?
There are number of studies that came out recently that show that eight to 15 hours of outdoor activities per week can help significantly reduce these eye problems from developing. This can be outside in front of the house, in the yard. Taking the kids for a hike or walk without their phone or device.
At-home reading material (should be) 20 centimeters away from the eyes or farther. Position the study desk near the window. When kids are reading, have kids take breaks and look outside. At night, the light has to be bright with a lamp near a reading desk.
They should definitely get their eyes checked by an eye doctor. Sometimes kids don’t complain at all.
Are more children having eye problems because of digital eye strain?
Definitely. Myopia is really a problem. Fifty percent of children may be nearsighted by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.
In Asian countries, there are children with serious eye problems because of increased time on digital devices, genetics, and they are not getting outside enough.
How are these eye problems treated?
With digital eye strain, they can do adjustments in lifestyle. They can be given glasses to use when they work on a computer. If they are nearsighted, they will be given prescription eye glasses and it’s important that they wear those glasses all the time. There are also certain eye drops and contact lenses that may help prevent progression of myopia.
If left unchecked, the problems of nearsightedness can be very serious.