One downside of screentime is that increasingly, children are suffering from dry eyes related to "digital eye strain" from the hours they spend staring at screens.
Symptoms of dry eye include a gritty feeling in the eye, crusting on eyelids, feeling like there’s something in your eye, redness, blurry vision and light sensitivity.
Optometrist and head of the University of Canberra’s Discipline of Optometry, Dr Nicola Anstice, spoke over the weekend about the digital age and its impact on children’s vision at Super Sunday, an optometry conference in Sydney.
“Australian children are presenting more commonly to optometrists with a range of visual problems related to screen use,” she said, alerting optometrists to this trend. “Evidence from studies indicates dry eye and digital eye strain is an issue in kids today and prevalence of dry eye in children is higher than ever.
“Dry eye is generally seen as an adult condition but practitioners should be looking for and treating digital eye strain in children and teaching them blink training to help combat digitally related dry eye problems. When looking at digital screens on phones, computers, iPads and more, we often don’t do a full blink and are more likely to do a partial blink than if reading hard copy material, resulting in reduced ocular surface lubrication.”
The type of screens used, viewing distances, how many hours a day they use digital devices and whether they multi-screen, all have an impact, and concurrent screen use is associated with a higher incidence of digital eye strain symptoms.
“About 80 per cent of children report digital eye strain when using digital devices,” Dr Nicola said. This can cause eye strain and symptoms such as weakness or fatigue of the eye, pain in the eye, headaches, focusing problems and dry eye.
Optometry Australia’s Luke Arundel refers to the 20-20-20 rule: “It’s important to take a 20 second break from screens every 20 minutes and look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres, or just into the distance) for around 20 seconds.”
Studies show that 80 per cent of teenagers may experience significant eye strain including tired, dry eyes after using digital devices for more than two hours straight. Other research found that 68 per cent of pre-schoolers aged three to five regularly use computers and over half participate in regular online activity. The average time eight to 18-year-olds use digital devices is 7.5 hours per day and even pre-schoolers use electronic screens for up to 2.5 hours a day.
If your child shows any symptoms for digital eye strain, go to www.goodvisionforlife.com.au and use the Find an Optometrist search button to make an appointment with an optometrist near you.