By Dr. Scott Schachter, OD
Yes, children, particularly young children, are most vulnerable to poor eye health because their eyes are still developing, and they are also developing habits that will stick with them in the long-term.
Kids are often glued to devices, only made worse by the pandemic. In fact, families with children are especially impacted by increased screen time. These observations are supported by a recent survey by Alcon.
Vision Skills a Child Needs to Learn
Children need to develop strong coordination of their eye muscles, because when the eyes are unable to focus on an object simultaneously or if one or several eye muscles are too weak to maintain balance, this causes a horizontal or vertical misalignment.
Early Signs to Identify Poor Eye Health
Head tilting might indicate a vertical deviation, and eye rubbing is a common sign of dryness. Parents should check to make sure that their eyes are working together and not favoring one over the other.
When children – stare at devices, their blink rates decrease, and they don’t blink as completely. This can lead to issues like an increase in dryness symptoms.
An increase in symptoms such as itchiness, rubbing or dryness is a common sign of eye irritation. According to Dr. Scott Schachter, OD, founder of the private practice Advanced Eyecare in Pismo Beach, California “I always recommend keeping preservative-free lubricating artificial tears like SYSTANE® HYDRATION PF with HydroBoost technology right by your computer and using them at least four times a day if you plan to spend the entire day in front of screens.” Using lubricating eye drops will help stabilize the tear film and relieve symptoms of dry eye.
Excessive exposure of the eyes to blue light can affect sleep patterns, which can be harmful to overall health.
How Much Screen Time is OK
There is no specific maximum number of hours, but as a general concept, we know that limiting screen time can only benefit you. According Dr. Schachter “I see children spending up to 10-12 hours of screen time in a day, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to remind your children to take regular and frequent breaks, and make sure that they are getting outside in the natural light.”
Studies show that children who play outside have decreased symptoms of dry eye, because they are spending less time on screens.
Alarm Signal that your Child needs an Eye Specialist
If children’s eyes are wandering or visibly not working together. The relationship between the eye and the brain is relatively plastic until the age of 12, so it’s important to develop good habits and strong eye muscle coordination at a young age. Before kids begin school, they should have an eye exam to make sure nothing is being missed.
Excessive eye rubbing, increased blinking or lack of blinking due to screen time are often a cause for concern and may be worth a trip to see an eye specialist.
Eye care tip to practice to Optimum Vision.
The 20/20/20 rule is always number one tip for optomum eye health. For every 20 minutes of screen time, make sure to look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. If you are going to spend hours staring a computer, set a timer for every 20 minutes to stop and look away.