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Eye Damage from Distance Learning: Are Your Kids at Risk?

In this time of pandemic, quarantine, and distance learning, perhaps the most important lesson your kids can learn consists of just three little words: blink, blink, blink!

The dangers of sending children into school buildings for face-to-face learning are obvious and worrying for every caring parent, but the risks of attending class via laptop screen may not be so apparent.

That’s why eye doctors everywhere are sounding an alarm. The visual strain of staring at a brightly illuminated digital liquid crystal display screen (LCD) for hours at a time can leave a child with headaches, blurriness, dry eyes, and even long term effects that develop in later life, including macular degeneration, retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma.

As it turns out, we already have a model that demonstrates how screen time can affect eye health. A recent study of adolescents with internet addiction and gaming disorder (a compulsion to play video games that interferes with their everyday life), showed that kids who spend too much time staring at LCDs develop a disorder that previously appeared only in the workplace – digital eye strain (DES).

According to the study, which is actually a review (meta-study) of 38 previous studies, “…The issues that were reported were related either to [or] with prolonged near-term adaptation (i.e., blurred vision at close range, difficulty in focusing, and copious headache after screen use) and those related to dry eye syndrome (irritation/burning sensation, ocular fatigue, discomfort, photosensitivity), while symptoms due to poor posture and prolonged physical immobilization in front of the screen (such as neck pain, tension headache, and other atypical musculoskeletal pain) are also very common.”

Fortunately, three small changes in behavior can go a long way toward maintaining great eye health for your children – and for yours as well.

  • Follow the 20/20/20 Rule. Resting the eyes is vital if you want to avoid straining them. There’s an easy way to do it. Every 20 minutes, take your eyes off the laptop screen and look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Just that brief respite will give them a chance to recover and relax.
  • Practice Ocular Distancing. For social distancing, we space at six feet. For ocular distancing, read the screen from at least two feet away. To reduce the demand on your vision even more, zoom in a little and magnify the image so that it’s easier to see and read.
  • Blink, blink, blink! It’s important both for comfort and for ocular health to keep the eyes well lubricated, and blinking is the way we do this naturally. So the advice is simple: blink as much as you can, both when looking at a screen and when resting vis a vis the 20/20/20 Rule. This advice is especially important because research has shown that when individuals stare at any screen, whether on a desktop, laptop, or smart phone, their natural tendency is to blink less.

Additionally, have your kids’ vision evaluated by a doctor at least every other year, and every year if they wear glasses. Stay aware of any signs that they may be experiencing difficulty in seeing or reading: headaches, excessive blinking, eye rubbing, or just overall crankiness.

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