Eye Strain in Kids

kid eye strain

It’s Back-to-Screen Time at school this fall. After a long summer of spending time outside hiking, biking, and playing in the backyard sprinkler, kids are returning to the classroom for virtual schooling. So, what will all of this prolonged screen time do to kids eyes? And what can parents do to mitigate the consequences of hours a day in front of the computer screen? Keep an Eye on it! Extra screen time can lead to eye strain in kids.  

Why Screens Hurt Our Eyes

Digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is caused by prolonged exposure to screens—from computers, tablets, video games, phone and e-reader use. According to the American Optometric Association, people who are at the greatest risk for developing CVS are people who “spend two or more continuous hours at a computer or using a digital screen device every day.” 

While this mostly happens to adults, we are now in a situation where children are in front of screens for a large portion of their days, increasing their susceptibility to eye strain issues.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, staring at a screen for long stretches without taking breaks can cause symptoms such as eye fatigue, blurry vision and dry eyes. Eye fatigue can also contribute to “headaches around the temples and eyes, and difficulty concentrating.”

Adults can pretty easily identify these symptoms, but according to Dr. Louise A. Sclafani, O.D., F.A.A.O., FSLS, an EyePromise Scientific Advisory Board Member, “Often, children don’t realize their eyes are strained. They may complain that their eyes feel tired or heavy or that their vision’s blurred, and parents may notice their children’s eyes are more red than normal.” 

Why are Screens Harmful? 

It’s hard to focus on screens that emit blue light—the closest to ultraviolet (UV) light on the visible light spectrum. “Because of these short, high-energy wavelengths, the light scatters more easily,” Sclafani says, “making it more difficult for the eyes to focus. This can lead to strain and fatigue commonly associated with screen time.”

How to Combat Kids’ Eye Strain

Moderation is key, says Sclafani, and that’s something that is difficult to strike a balance with right now. “In the current circumstances, we can’t have our children shut down from screen time completely, but there are several ways we can give their eyes breaks throughout the day.”

Sclafani suggests the following:

Try the 20-20-20 rule

Every 20 minutes, have kids look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is all it takes to help your eyes reset, refocus, and keep the eyes from feeling strained/fatigued. 

Have them do some old-school reading

Instead of giving them an e-reader or tablet, have them read an actual book. Reading from actual paper helps their eyes focus by reducing the amount of harmful blue light. 

Get Them Outside!

Being outdoors is a viable and necessary option for taking a break from screens. Remember, the sun is the largest producer of blue light, so consider having everyone wear sunglasses.

When to see a Doctor

If your child is having consistent trouble with eye strain, a visit to the doctor is in order. And, says Sclafani, the earlier the intervention, the better. “If children begin to notice changes in their vision like trouble seeing things far away, it’s best to move up the visit and see your eye doctor as soon as possible to rule out any serious issues.”

Blue Light Glasses

Blue Light Glasses are all the rage with families combating an excess of screen time right now. But are they worth it? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the glasses provide reduce headaches, and help users sleep, because the glasses aim to filter or break down blue light emitted from computers and screens. But, says Scalfani, “as of now, there is insufficient scientific evidence demonstrating that blue light glasses are effective or ineffective.”

Click here for more resources on helping kids through e-learning.

—Ann Levelle