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With increase in screen time, keep tabs on kids’ eye health

Q: My daughter is now on the computer many hours each day for school and to complete homework. Does she need blue light-blocking glasses?

A: No, she does not. Blue light-blocking lenses for glasses have become very popular, claiming to relieve eye strain, prevent vision problems and eye damage, and to prevent headaches. There is no strong evidence that they achieve any of those goals.

Blue light is a wavelength of light found in sunlight, but it is not damaging to the eyes like ultraviolet (UV) light can be. Too much UV light exposure can damage the eyes by contributing to cataracts, cancer and growths on the eye. Blue light is produced by screens found on computers, phones and televisions, as well as from fluorescent and LED lights.

While there is no need to block your daughter’s eyes from the blue light generated by her computer screen, you do need to be concerned about digital eye strain.

Digital-related eye strain can cause the sensation of eye fatigue, stinging, blurry vision, and dry or tearing eyes. Thankfully, there are things that you can do to maximize your daughter’s eye health, especially in this screen-heavy time for our kids.

Schedule frequent breaks to prevent eye strain. A great way to do this is by following the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s “20-20-20” rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes and focus on an object that is 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Try to place the computer screen just below eye level so she does not have to open her eyes as wide to look at the screen. A good rule of thumb for the distance to position screens is the “1-2-10” rule: place mobile phones 1 foot away, computers and laptops 2 feet away, and most televisions 10 feet away.

Also, don’t forget to blink! While this may sound silly, when we are working on the computer or watching a show, we don’t blink as often as we should. Blinking fewer times per minute can cause dry eyes. Making a conscious effort to blink more often, especially when taking a break from the screen, can help prevent dry eyes and eye discomfort. Lubricating eye drops may also be helpful.

Lighting is very important when spending time in front of a screen. Keep lights from lamps or windows from reflecting off of the screen to reduce glare and consider having a lower level of light than would be used for reading. You can also adjust the level of brightness of the device, or attach a screen over the monitor, to cut down on the brightness and prevent glare. Many devices have a “night mode” that decreases the blue light that is emitted.

An important fact to remember is that the light from screens stimulates the brain and can impact one’s ability to fall asleep. Try to discontinue screen time for at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

Vision screenings and routine eye exams as part of a child’s check-up with his or her pediatrician or primary care provider are very important. Monitoring vision and vision development early on, and in an ongoing manner, is critical as the visual pathways are developing and visual impairment at an early age can have lifelong negative effects.

Vision impairment can impact development, impede a child’s education, contribute to behavior problems, and may lead to permanent vision loss. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend vision screening at periodic intervals, not necessarily annual eye exams, unless ongoing eye problems are identified.

Newborns should have their eyes checked for infections, cataracts, and congenital defects. By six months of age, a baby’s eyes are checked to make sure they are tracking together and that their vision is developing normally. For kids ages one to three, a photo vision screen should be performed. This is accomplished with a device that is used to take a picture of your child’s eyes and can show if they suffer from amblyopia (decreased vision), astigmatism (a curvature of the eye that can affect vision), or strabismus (eye malalignment).

In the preschool age range, many kids are able to have their vision screened using the traditional eye chart, where they stand 20 feet away and have to identify pictures on the chart. If your child’s doctor discovers a problem, they may refer him or her to see a pediatric ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases and disorders of the eye.

Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at melissaemason@gmail.com.

 

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