In our society today, children increasingly use computers, smart phones and tablets on a daily basis. Children as well as adults may experience symptoms related to computer use called computer vision syndrome. Symptoms after extensive viewing of technology can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision and headaches, dry eye and eyestrain. These symptoms may be exacerbated by poor lighting, glare, an improper work station arrangement, uncorrected refractive error (vision problems), or a combination of these factors.
In addition, children may be more susceptible than adults to computer vision syndrome.
1. Children use an adult computer.
Since a child is smaller than an adult, the computer workstation may not fit them well. Children may have difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor, causing arm, neck or back discomfort. For example, a child using a computer on a typical office desk often must look up further than an adult. The optimal viewing angle is slightly down at 15 to 20 degrees. If a different viewing angle is used, problems with binocular vision (both eyes working together) can occur.
2. Children are not as self-aware as adults.
A child may use a computer or keep playing video games without taking breaks for many hours. Prolonged activity without breaks can cause accommodative problems. The eyes focus at a particular target, which may cause accommodation spasm. In some cases, the eyes may be unable to smoothly and easily focus on a particular object, even long after the original work is completed. Also, eye irritation may occur due to reduced blinking. When concentrating and viewing a screen, blinking is reduced.
3. Children may ignore problems.
For example, a child may ignore significant glare or poor lighting when viewing a computer screen, which may lead to excessive eyestrain. Intensified light can contribute to excessive glare and problems associated with eye adjustments to different levels of light. Also, children often accept blurred vision caused by nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or astigmatism because they think everyone sees the way they do. Uncorrected refractive error can cause eye strain.
Important tips for children using a computer:
1. A comprehensive eye examination.
Eye examinations are important for all children and adults, starting at 6 months of age. An eye examination will ensure that the child can see clearly and comfortably at all distances and detect conditions that may contribute to eyestrain. If needed, glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy (eye exercises) can provide clear and comfortable vision for computer use.
2. Check the height and arrangement of the computer.
A computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and held 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes. The child’s size should determine where the monitor and keyboard are placed. If the computer monitor is too high in the child’s field of view, an adjustable chair may be used that can be adjusted for the child’s comfort. A footstool may be helpful in supporting the child’s feet.
3. Check for glare on the computer screen.
Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. If needed, adjust the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
4. Take a break.
A 20 second break every 20 minutes will reduce the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation.
5. Keep blinking.
Remind your child the importance of blinking. In order to minimize the chances of developing dry eye when using a computer or digital device, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of the eye moist. Non-preserved lubricant artificial tears may be helpful for children as well as adults.
~ Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association