Digital Eyestrain: Know the Signs & How to Help Your Kids

B Digital Eye Strain

With the school year halfway done, your child is probably spending an increasing amount of time using digital technology on a daily basis. While the educational benefits of these devices are numerous, the question arises: Are their young eyes equipped to handle this much digital technology?

If your child is complaining of irritated, sore or blurry eyes, you may have something to worry about. According to the American Optometric Association, nearly 83 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. between the ages of 10 and 17 use digital devices for hours each day, which may put them at risk of a condition called digital eyestrain.

Signs and Symptoms

Dr. Edward G. Buckley, M.D., a neuro-ophthalmologist who is a professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, explains that anytime a child stares intently on a digital device, he or she can “experience discomfort because you use the muscles attached to the eye to keep them directed to where you are looking. The smaller and more detailed the image, the greater the effort it requires.”

Like any muscle used in excess, Buckley says the eye muscle will ”fatigue and become uncomfortable,” he says.

The other muscle used for close-up vision is inside the eye and controls the lens. “When you look at objects up close, you need to focus on them to see clearly,” Buckley says. “The closer the object, the more focusing is required. The muscle may become tired and uncomfortable, and blinking decreases. Blinking keeps the eyes moist, so not blinking causes them to dry out and the cornea becomes uncomfortable and can hurt.”

Additional symptoms of digital eyestrain may include sore and/or irritated eyes, blurred and/or double vision, increased sensitivity to light, headaches and/or brow aches.

Digital Devotion

In an American Optometric Association survey report, Dr. Lori Roberts, O.D., chair of the AOA’s New Technology Committee, says many parents drastically underestimate the amount of time their children spend on digital devices.

“When parents think about their kids’ mobile consumption habits, they often don’t think about how much time they spend on devices in the classroom,” Roberts says.

During March 2014, the AOA conducted two surveys: one of children between the ages of 10 and 17 and the other of parents of children under the age of 18. The AOA discovered that only 40 percent of parents believe their children use an electronic device for the amount of time the children reported: three or more hours each day.

Prevention Tips

While digital eyestrain does not cause permanent damage to the eye or its vision, there are numerous measures parents and children can take to help prevent and/or alleviate vision problems associated with digital eyestrain:

1. Ensure proper lighting. Help minimize strain by positioning a desk lamp to shine on your child’s desk. Place the computer screen 20-26 inches away from his or her eyes. Position the screen in a way that helps to reduce glare from nearby windows and/or overhead lighting.

2. Schedule regular eye exams. The AOA recommends that every child have a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. If your child wears prescription glasses, recurring eyestrain may be an indication that his or her prescription needs to be updated.

3. Take frequent breaks. “Children should make sure that they practice the 20-20-20 rule: When using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away,” Roberts says.

4. Keep glasses on. If you child wears glasses, make sure he or she continues to wear them, as glasses will, according to Buckley, “decrease the likelihood that eyestrain will occur. Glasses assist with making the image clear, thus requiring less muscle effort to focus on the device.”

Jennifer Lacey specializes in covering family health and lifestyle issues. She blogs at

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