Is too much screen time bad for my kid’s eyes? I get this question almost daily from concerned parents.
Tablets and phones are ubiquitous. Unfortunately, it’s not a straightforward answer. For one, “too much” is very subjective and the research is everchanging. The American Pediatric Association has come out with recommendations for screen time based on age and it’s a good place to start. For the purposes of this blog, let’s just focus on three effects screens have on eyes and vision.
Evidence of permanent damage to the retina from long term exposure to blue light is still not clear; the ophthalmic and optometric communities are not united on this.
The potential for damage is consistent with what we know about light and various tissues of the eye, but is there enough coming from devices to do permanent damage or increase the risk of macular degeneration? Honestly, I tell my patients the jury is still out. However, one thing we know quite confidently, is that blue light interrupts our sleep cycles. For young children and adolescents sleep is critical.
Digital devices are held close and engage our focusing system. This can create a strain on this system. Imagine holding 5lb dumbbells. You can do it, right? But do that for hours on end and your arms will get tired. The same is true for your eyes. Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain includes symptoms such as feeling fatigued, blurred vision, headaches, and difficulty concentrating.
The best recommendations to combat this are to get an anti-fatigue lens that takes some of the work off your focusing system like an EyeZen lens or KODAK PowerUp lens and to follow the 20/20/20 rule. That rule states you should take a break every 20 mins and look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. You want to completely disengage your focusing system.
Digital devices lead to more dry eye complaints in younger and younger kids. When we concentrate we blink less. On average we blink 12-20 times a minute. When using digital devices, this drops dramatically. If we are playing video games on the devices users can go a whole minute without any blinks. After playing an intense marathon of Tetris, do things seem blurry and you feel your eyes burn and water? Blinks refresh the tear film and pump the lids together to help release oils that are critical to prevent evaporation. Using over the counter artificial tears/lubricating drops (avoid “takes the red out” drops like Visine or Clear eyes) can help with discomfort and keep the vision more stable.
So, in the end, I tell my patients and parents devices can indeed have ill effects. However, with moderation and supervision, we can mitigate these effects. Getting a pair of computer glasses is the best investment they can make to reduce current symptoms from digital devices. The rest comes from monitoring their kid’s screen time, limiting it, and taking breaks. I remind parent their kids won’t go blind from screens, but reducing screen time is much kinder to the tear film, focusing system, and sleep schedule of their little ones.