Electronic Device Use and Possible Eye Problems

My children never seem to move without a cellphone in hand. I think this is excessive. How much time are kids really spending on their electronic devices? Can excessive use damage their eyes? -- Worried

Answer: According to a survey by the American Optometric Association, parents severely underestimate the time their children spend on digital devices. Eighty-three percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 estimated they use an electronic device for three or more hours each day. However, a separate AOA survey of parents revealed that only 40 percent of parents believe their children use an electronic device for that same amount of time.

Eye doctors are concerned that this significant disparity may indicate that parents are more likely to overlook warning signs and symptoms associated with vision problems due to technology use, such as digital eye strain.

Furthermore, when parents think about their kids' mobile consumption habits, they don't think about how much time they spend on devices in the classroom, according to Lori Roberts, O.D., chair of the AOA's New Technology Committee. Every year when school starts, optometrists see an increase in kids complaining of symptoms synonymous with eye strain.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of the children surveyed in the AOA report experienced burning, itchy or tired eyes after using electronic devices for long periods of time. These are all symptoms of digital eye strain, a temporary vision condition caused by prolonged use of technology. Additional symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain.

Parents should strongly insist that their children follow these AOA guidelines to help prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with digital eye strain in their children:

  • -Check the height and position of the device. Computer screens should be 4 to 5 inches below eye level and 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes. Digital devices should be held a safe distance away from eyes and slightly below eye level.
  • -Check for glare on the screen. Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of a computer monitor. If this happens, turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen. Also consider adjusting the brightness of the screen on your digital device or changing its background color.
  • -Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light, or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
  • -Adjust font size. Increase the size of text on the screen of the device to make it easier on your eyes when reading.
  • -Keep blinking. To minimize the chances of developing dry eye when using a computer or digital device, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of the eye moist.

Parents should also make sure that their children follow the 20-20-20 rule when using technology. They should take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.