Excessive screen time can lead to digital eye strain and blue light exposure in children and teens, which comes with many vision-related risks.
With many children and teens participating in school fully remotely, or experiencing a hybrid of in-person and online learning, eye strain and blue light exposure from increased screen time presents more risks than ever.
The reality is that most children cannot fully escape increased screen time, but they can avoid digital eye strain and unnecessary blue light exposure with proper precautions and treatment.
Blue Light and Children
Children's eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital devices. This increased absorption is due to the lack of the protective pigments, which have not yet developed, to help filter out some of the damaging blue light. A few of the effects of blue light include blurred vision, headaches, dry eye, and interrupted sleep.
Blue light has one of the shortest, yet highest energy wavelengths in the light spectrum. It is part of the light spectrum that is visible to the human eye, and flickers easier and longer than other types of weaker wavelengths. This flickering casts a glare that reduces contrast and clarity which results in blurred vision. As the eyes constantly work to clear the blurry vision, eye fatigue occurs.
As children spend more time using digital devices, it is more important than ever before to schedule an eye health exam with a residency-trained pediatric eye doctor. Residency-trained pediatric eye doctors have training and clinical experience that other eye doctors do not, and are uniquely qualified to care for children from newborns on up.
Even if your child is not verbalizing vision concerns, you should be proactive. A professional, dilated eye exam with a pediatric eye doctor will give you information you need and peace of mind.
If you are still on the fence about scheduling an exam, read on for a few facts about the problems digital eye strain can cause in children and teens.
Digital Eye Strain Facts
If not properly prevented or treated, excess screen time leads to digital eye strain and unhealthy levels of blue light exposure. Here are some facts to consider.
Studies show the incidences of myopia (nearsightedness) are growing exponentially among children. It was previously thought myopia was primarily genetic, recent research indicates a correlation between increased exposure to and use of digital devices.
Children as young as 6 months of age begin zooming in on digital devices such as parent's tablets or smartphones.
A 2016 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows 17% of children 6 to 17 years of age are exposed to six or more hours of digital media per day; and 36% of this age group use digital media for two to four hours a day.
A 2017 Vision Council report shows 56% of parents say their children experience symptoms of digital eye strain (DES) after only two hours of screen time.
By the time a child reaches 17, they will have spent over 50,000 hours (a third of their life) on a smartphone or tablet.
Those who are at greatest risk from blue light exposure include children and heavy tech users.
Research is pointing to possible risk of macular degeneration and retinal issues later in life due to long-term exposure; a more immediate issue – sleep pattern disruption.
As schools move away from standard paper books to tablets, or fewer hours in traditional classrooms to increased online learning, greater numbers of children are going to experience symptoms of digital eye strain.
Symptoms of digital eye strain (DES) include:
- Sleep pattern disruption or trouble sleeping
- Blurred or double vision, or words appearing to move on the screen
- Body fatigue – at the end of the school day the neck, shoulders, back and eyes can feel sore or tired
- Dry eye – this used to be a symptom associated with age, but not so anymore. Blink rates are reduced when staring at screens, which decreases the amount of moisture (tear film produced and oils secreted) on the eye
- Eye rubbing – it may feel good to rub the eye muscles, but it's not good for the eye
- Headaches – becoming more common among children
- Light sensitivity – most noticeable at the end of the day, and can affect night vision
- Reduced concentration – it is difficult for children to focus on a screen for extended periods of time, and the need to take a “screen break” can also result in breaking the child's focus and concentration.
Digital Eye Strain Solutions
As a concerned parent, what can you do to treat and prevent digital eye strain?
Firstly, schedule an appointment with a pediatric eye doctor to rule out any underlying vision conditions (uncorrected refractive error, eye misalignment, binocular vision deficits, etc).
Glasses for computer use are very common. If recommended, it is important to help your child understand the importance of wearing them. Even a slight prescription left uncorrected can have a tremendous effects when using digital devices
Monitor screen time, take frequent breaks, and use the 20/20 rule – every 20 minutes look away from the screen and focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds, and during this time, blink 20 times.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding exposure to screens for at least one hour before going to bed. Also, help your child practice proper sleep hygiene, as outlined by this pamphlet from Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Allow time for outside play, giving time to focus on objects at different distances and exposure to natural light.
Here at Artisan Pediatric Eyecare, our residency-trained pediatric eye doctors have the specialized training and clinical expertise to diagnose and treat digital eye strain. We are happy to discuss lenses specifically designed to help reduce digital eye strain, as well as protective blue light filtering lenses.
Our doctors are:
- Residency-trained in pediatric vision
- Accepting new patients
- No referral necessary
- In-network with most insurances
You can view more information on this topic on our Blue Light and Digital Eye Strain pages.
Please give us a call at 208-900-3336 to schedule an appointment for your child.