PITTSBURGH — We’re living in a digital world and eye doctors are seeing more and more adults, and even children, come in with vision problems linked all to the screens we look at. If not dealt with early on, it could lead children down a path with lasting effects.
Tenth grader Alexis Thompson stares at a screen most of her day for school and her social life.
“Your eyes get tired, and it’s just hard to sit in the one position all day, especially if you’re doing Zoom classes,” Thompson said.
Her grandmother, Rosemary Teske, estimates that Thompson spends about 14 to 15 hours a day looking at either a cell phone or computer screen,
“We’re talking about eight to eight, and then add another couple of hours. She’s having a hard time seeing; even close up things blur,” Teske said.
The pandemic exacerbated a problem that’s been around for the last decade; digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.
Dr. Christin Sylvester is a Pediatric Ophthalmologist at Everett & Hurite Ophthalmic Association. She said she is seeing more and more patients like Thompson,
“They’re complaining of blurriness headaches, some with double vision, dry eyes, and it’s really getting worse. Every day I probably have the conversation of digital eye strain maybe, 8 to 10 times a day,” she said,
Sylvester says it’s a huge concern because it creates a lasting effect like near-sightedness.
Dr. Ken Nischal is the Chair of Pediatric Opthamology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He said parents need to set limits,
“Under the age of eight, the brain and the brain system learns to see what you’re going to see forever. I’m worried about certainly blue light, is an issue, but it’s not excessive, It’s more the glare that comes off with increased illumination. Number two, reduce blinking. If you’re concentrating, you reduce blinking; you get eye problems. Number three, the younger the child, the greater the risk of the eyes turning in because they’re really close up, and there is a study to show that and number four, reduce the reduction in physical activity and more sort of sitting down and doing things, which is not good for young children,” Nischal said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children ages two to five should have no more than one hour of screen time a day. Doctors know that can be hard, so they recommend using the 20-20-20 rule. It’s straightforward and something adults should be doing while working as well.
“20 minutes on any device. Take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away and the more you do that, the better it is. Especially important for children. Doing cyber school or virtual school,” Nischal said.
Sylvester said she uses an alarm with her children.
“We’ve even gone so far as setting a little alarm in my house every 20 minutes, they know and it’s not a big break they have to look up and take a break and then they can go back to their device,” said Sylvester. “Your eyes need that period to relax and readjust, and then go back to looking. I will sometimes tell my family, even with reading. Reading does the same thing so if they’re reading a book for a prolonged period, maybe put a little paperclip in their book. So, when they get to the paperclip, they look up.”
But another popular option is blue light glasses. They start at about ten bucks and can be integrated into your prescription glasses. But the eye doctors we spoke with say they’re not the cure.
“I don’t think that blue-blocking glasses, they do not hurt,” said Sylvester. “I tell patients if your child feels that they are helping great use them, but there’s no scientific evidence that that is the solution.”
Sylvester would love to see teachers and parents set the example,
“They used to call them brain breaks in elementary school; let’s call them eye breaks because they need them,” she said.
Overall, less screen time would be best, but doctors know with pandemic and school that might not be an option, so they say seek a balance.
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