Distance learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic means kids are spending more and more time in front of a computer these days, a phenomenon that has parents wondering if all the extra screen time is harming kids’ eyes. Robert Bellinoff, MD, an ophthalmologist with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, explains how parents can help kids reduce negative effects of increased screen time, and monitor their children’s eye health.
Children may experience dry eyes now that technology is playing an even bigger role in schooling. Dr. Bellinoff says that even very young children can experience dry eyes, which can make the eyes feel gritty, sandy or cause a burning sensation. It is typical for the symptoms to be worse at the end of the day.
Spending time in front of a screen slows down the eyes’ blink rate. Blinking less causes the eyes to become dry. When eyes get dry, chemicals are released that cause inflammation in the eyes, making them irritated. The more time spent looking at a screen, the more dry and irritated the eyes are likely to become.
Additionally, the more kids are inside working on the computer, with less exposure to sunlight, there’s more of a chance they will become near-sighted. Scheduling some outdoor playtime, as well as applying the 20-20-20 technique can help reduce the risk of nearsightedness and dry eyes.
The 20-20-20 Technique
The 20-20-20 rule recommends looking about 20 feet away, or at a distant object for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes of screen time. While doing this, relax the eye muscles so they’re not constantly trying to refocus. Blinking will also help to re-lubricate the eyes so they feel better.
“Blinking creates tears that have all kinds of good chemicals that cut down on many of the dry eye spots that lead to inflammation. So whether it’s kids or adults, I’ve been recommending the 20-20-20 method for years,” said Dr. Bellinoff.
Don’t Skip This Year’s Eye Exam
Eye discomfort can have a trickle-down effect for kids. If the eyes are irritated, kids may have a harder time studying or concentrating on their work. Make sure to have your pediatrician conduct an eye test during this year’s annual wellness visit.
Since parents are spending more time at home with their kids, they have the advantage of being able to monitor their kids’ eye health. Some signs of dry eyes and irritation to look out for include: rubbing eyes, red eyes, and teary eyes.
Squinting is a good indicator of nearsightedness in a child. Additionally, if a child is not interested in objects up close, that could indicate farsightedness. If your child is revealing any of these signs, get in touch with your pediatrician or eye doctor for an exam.