DR. DAVID WONG: Beware of eyestrain – Tips & Results

dear dr Wong, I’m worried about my granddaughter. The other day I saw her lying on the couch watching a video on her mother’s cell phone, which she was holding inches from her eyes. My daughter sat nearby, scrolling through social media on a tablet. I wanted to say something but didn’t. When I use the computer, my eyes get tired after a while. How can a young person get the screen so close to their eyes without causing any harm? I wonder if there is a recommendation for children on screen safety.

Answer: I share your concern about how your granddaughter used the phone to watch a video. I’ve seen it too, kids use smartphones for long periods of time, scrolling through social media or watching videos. There is no question that this strains the eyes. They continue because they are interested in the content or are bored with things around them.

These screens started with computers a few decades ago. The black monitor screen with green writing and cursor has been replaced with a white screen and multicolored pages. When we spend hours staring at the monitor, problems are inevitable. People complain of blurred vision, eye pain, dry eyes, and headaches. This digital eye strain is also known as computer vision syndrome.

It has been shown that when working with screens, our eyes don’t blink as often as they should. When we blink, a layer of tears covers the conjunctiva, the outermost layer of cells that protects the front of our eyes. This thin layer of tears hydrates the conjunctiva and keeps it healthy. When it dries, our eyes become irritated.

Our eyes can focus on both near and far things. This is done by a group of small muscles inside the eye that change the thickness of our lens; There is a lens in each eye. As we continue to focus on a screen, these muscles must constantly adapt to focus on words and other elements on the screen. Over time, these muscles tire; This is the cause of the eye strain that many experience after using the screen for a while.

There’s a 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stop focusing on a screen, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds, and blink 20 times. Another suggestion is to take a 10-minute break after every hour of screen use, either for work or entertainment. This allows the eye muscles to relax, reducing eye strain and keeping the conjunctiva moist.

Other strategies include keeping the screen at least an arm’s length from your eyes and keeping the surrounding area dark. If the environment is bright, the screen will naturally become brighter; this will strain the eyes more. Move the screen so that no light falls directly on the screen.

The pandemic has forced children to attend classes online and stare at screens even more. Research has also shown that children are getting more screen time for entertainment during the pandemic due to isolation. It is all the more important for parents to find other activities that their children enjoy so that they do not constantly use screens.

Smartphones have smaller screens than computer monitors and tablets. It’s natural for them to hold these closer, causing more eye strain than with larger screens. In the past few decades, the number of nearsighted (myopia) children in North America has doubled.

In many parts of Asia, the vast majority of young people suffer from myopia. This is partly due to genetics and partly due to increased indoor activities for education and entertainment.

Outdoor activities are important for normal eye development in children.

Children should also have an eye test once a year. You can’t tell when things are blurry; they assume it’s normal. The eye test can detect myopia and other problems early and prevent them from getting worse.

Finally, it’s important to stop all screens an hour before bed, as they can interfere with sleep. It is better for children to read a book in bed than to use screens. I also recommend parents remove all electronic devices, including TVs, video games, tablets, and phones, from children’s rooms at night. It’s better to get an alarm clock instead of using the phone’s alarm function.

dr David Wong is a retired pediatrician in Summerside and recipient of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s 2012 Distinguished Community Pediatrician Award. His columns appear in the Guardian on the last Tuesday of every month. You can see a collection of his past columns at askdrwong.ca. If you have a question for Dr. Wong, send them to Prince County Hospital, 65 Roy Boates Ave., Summerside, PEI, C1N 2A9.

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