Is too much screen time harming children's vision?

August 6, 2018, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

As children spend more time tethered to screens, there is increasing concern about potential harm to their visual development. Ophthalmologists—physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care—are seeing a marked increase in children with dry eye and eye strain from too much screen time.

But does digital eyestrain cause lasting damage? Should your child use reading glasses or glasses? As you send your kids back to school this month for more time with screens and books, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is arming parents with the facts, so they can make informed choices about their children's .

It's a fact that there is a world-wide epidemic of myopia, also known as . Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness in the US nearly doubled, to 42 percent. In Asia, up to 90 percent of teenagers and adults are nearsighted. Clearly, something is going on. But scientists can't agree on exactly what.

A new study appearing in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers further evidence that at least part of the worldwide increase in nearsightedness has to do with near work activities; not just screens but also traditional books.

And, that spending time outdoors—especially in early childhood—can slow the progression of nearsightedness. It remains unclear whether the rise in nearsightedness is due to focusing on phones all the time, or to light interacting with our circadian rhythms to influence eye growth, or none of the above.

While scientists look for a definitive answer, there is no doubt that most computer users experience digital eyestrain. Kids are no different from adults when it comes to digital eyestrain. They can experience dry eye, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision, too. While symptoms are typically temporary, they may be frequent and persistent.

But this doesn't mean they need a prescription for computer glasses or that they have developed an eye condition of middle-age that requires reading glasses, as some suggest. It also doesn't mean that blue light coming from computer screens is damaging their eyes. It means they need to take more frequent breaks. This is because we don't blink as often while using computers and other digital devices. Extended reading, writing or other intensive near work can also cause . Ophthalmologists recommend taking a 20 second break from near work every 20 minutes.

Here are 10 tips to help protect your child's eyes from computer eyestrain:

  • Set a kitchen timer or a smart device timer to remind them.
  • Alternate reading an e-book with a real book and encourage kids to look up and out the window every two chapters.
  • After completing a level in a video game, look out the window for 20 seconds.
  • Pre-mark books with a paperclip every few chapters to remind your child to look up. On an e-book, use the "bookmark" function for the same effect.
  • Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, as the glare on the screen can create strain.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen so that it feels comfortable to you.
  • Use good posture when using a computer and when reading.
  • Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away, 18 to 24 inches is ideal.
  • Create a distraction that causes your child to look up every now and then.
  • Remind them to blink when watching a screen.

"I prefer to teach kids better habits, instead of supplying them a crutch like reading glasses to enable them to consume even more media," said K. David Epley, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "If you run too far and your legs start hurting, you stop. Likewise, if you've been reading too long or watching videos too long, and your eyes start hurting, you should stop."

Explore further: More computer time may be causing nearsightedness in US kids

More information: Po-Wen Ku et al, The Associations between Near Visual Activity and Incident Myopia in Children, Ophthalmology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2018.05.010

Related Stories

More computer time may be causing nearsightedness in US kids

December 24, 2015
(HealthDay)—Children who spend lots of time indoors and on computers and other electronic devices may be raising their risk for nearsightedness, a panel of U.S. ophthalmology experts suggests.

Why your kids might be able to see better if they play outdoors more often

September 26, 2017
The ready availability of technology may make the children of today faster at configuring a new smartphone, but does all of that screen time affect the development of their eyes?

Nine signs children may need an eye exam

September 8, 2017
Back-to-school shopping lists might include school supplies, new clothes, and even a haircut, but does it include an eye exam? Physicians in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology think it should.

Poor vision more common in China's well-off kids: study

February 5, 2015
A study involving 20,000 children in China said Thursday that poor kids are far less likely to be nearsighted than their wealthier peers.

Study offers hope for more effective treatment of nearsightedness

June 5, 2012
Research by an optometrist at the University of Houston (UH) supports the continued investigation of optical treatments that attempt to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children.

Programmable electronic glasses provide children effective, digital lazy eye treatment

November 14, 2015
A new study on lazy eye found that programmable electronic glasses help improve vision in children just as well as the more traditional treatment using eye patches. This "digital patch" is the first new effective treatment ...

Recommended for you

Sleep in your contacts, risk serious eye damage: CDC

August 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—A 59-year-old man was in the shower, wiping his eyes with a towel, when he heard a popping sound and felt pain shoot through his left eye.

Researchers reverse congenital blindness in mice

August 15, 2018
Researchers funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) have reversed congenital blindness in mice by changing supportive cells in the retina called Müller glia into rod photoreceptors. The findings advance efforts toward ...

The inequalities of prenatal stress

August 14, 2018
Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood – but only among children in poor households, according to a new Stanford study that looked at the long-term impact of acute, ...

Promoting HPV vaccine doesn't prompt risky sex by teens: study

August 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Controversial state laws that promote vaccinating kids against the human papillomavirus (HPV) do not increase the likelihood that teens will engage in risky sexual behavior, a new study contends.

Grip strength of children gives clues about their future health

August 13, 2018
While other studies have shown that muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes—including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality—this is the first ...

Autoimmune response drives vision loss in glaucoma

August 10, 2018
A research team from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that immune cells in the eye that developed in response to early exposure to bacteria are a key contributor to progressive ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.