Q:There’s no doubt about it—my family is partaking in more screen time than I can ever remember. Is this doing any sort of lasting damage to my eyesight? What about my kids, who are ages 5 and 7?
In the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood sees the wolf and exclaims: “My, what big eyes you have!” And he retorts, “All the better to see you with.”
This exchange could not have taken place in today’s time of excessive use of computers, tablets and cellphones. The computer-savvy wolf would have had dry, irritated eyes and blurry vision from all that time on the screen.
Even worse, the little girl may not have even recognized the wolf in Grandma’s disguise if she spent all her time on the computer rather than playing outside and picking berries in the forest.
There is actually a term called “computer vision syndrome,” which includes multiple eye problems that stem from spending too much time in front of a screen. If you spend hours a day staring at tiny pixels, your eyes can get strained from the effort, which can lead to headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain.
When you stare at a screen, you tend to blink far less often, which can cause your eyes to dry out. Dry eyes can cause redness, stinging, blurry vision and eye fatigue. Untreated, dry eyes can damage the eye surface, leading to more severe vision problems.
Screens are also at a constant distance so your eyes do not get the same work-out to focus and refocus on near and far distances, which is what they are designed to do. In fact, kids can develop nearsightedness with too much screen time, as far away objects will appear blurry as they constantly focus on the screen right in front of them.
A good reminder for your kids is the 20-20-20 rule. That means to take a break from the screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and focus on an object 20 feet away. This exercise can help keep vision loss to a minimum.
Further problems with too much time on these devices have to do with glare and the emission of too much blue light. Too much glare can lead to dull and painful eye strain.
Try to eliminate the glare as much as possible by adjusting the screen light, and also position the screen to look down slightly rather than looking up.
The blue light emitted from these devices can further damage the eyes—particularly retinal cells—and may have longer term consequences to eye health that is still under investigation. Excessive blue light before bed is also a major contributor to insomnia for some people.
We are all dealing with more screen time with work and school at home these days. Some of this is unavoidable, but this does not mean that there has to be lasting damage to your vision. Taking regular breaks from the screen, getting outside and exercising, and making sure your posture is correct while at the computer can all help.
Listen to your body: If you develop symptoms such as headaches, blurry vision, pain in your eyes or more fatigue, please see your eye professional and get checked. Otherwise, you may not be able to clearly distinguish your Grandma from the Wolf.
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