Are computers bad for my child’s eyes?

This is a question that patients often ask me. Sometimes parents hint that they want me to tell their kids to stay off the computer/tablet/smartphone and others just really want to know how much is too much.  The fact of the matter is this: technology is not going to go away. It is everywhere. We do want our kids to be tech savvy and take advantage of all of the great learning experiences that technology offers, don’t we? We just need to be smart about it.

Courtesy of Paul Mayne on Flickr

Courtesy of Paul Mayne on Flickr

Using too much technology at a near point can have several negative effects on the body and on the visual system.  Kids who spend a lot of time in front of their devices, are less active physically and can have difficulty with posture.  We know that childhood obesity and diabetes is on the rise. One way to combat these diseases is to keep our children active, which means less time in front of the computer.

Computer vision syndrome is not a term that only applies to adults.  Symptoms such as eye fatigue, blurry vision, red eyes, headache and difficulty shifting focus to objects at a distance after computer use can also affect kids.  When focusing is fixed at a certain object in space for a long time, a child’s developing visual system does not get the benefit of practicing how to focus at different distances. This can cause persistent  problems with clarity of vision and possibly reading problems.

So how much is too much? A rule of thumb I usually give my patients is if school-aged children use the computer for schoolwork or for recreation, they should be on it for no more than 40 minutes without a break. By break, I mean at least 5 minutes away from the desk – getting up, looking outside, getting a drink of water and moving around.  For younger kids, try no more than 20 minutes per day. In fact, keep younger kids off electronic devices as much as possible. Encourage more free play, book reading and imagination. Try to use the technology only as needed or as a reward, not as a given or expected everyday activity.

There will be plenty of time to use technology as they get older. As I said, it is not going to go away!

Courtesy of sean dreilinger on Flickr

Courtesy of sean dreilinger on Flickr

In the meantime, do what you can to make computer use safe. Make sure children have annual comprehensive eye examinations to make sure their eyes are not being adversely affected by computer use.  Make sure the computer station is set up ergonomically for your child. The monitor should be slightly below eye level and a foot stool should be used to prevent dangling feet. Minimize glare on the computer by using glare filters and by positioning the computer away from windows as much as possible. These suggestions will help with healthy computer use for our children.

~Lisa Weiss, OD

You’ve been diagnosed with diabetes – what does that mean for your eyes?

You’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes.  Your head is still spinning with the news.  Sensory information overload.  Somewhere in between hearing those 3 words “you have diabetes,” you also heard that you should get your eyes checked.  No problem.  There are many optometrists out there in your community just like me.  The first thing I usually do is to take a very detailed history of your overall health including various aspects of your diabetes management.  Be prepared to answer questions regarding when you were first diagnosed with diabetes about what oral or injectable medications you are currently taking and what your blood sugar readings are.  The history portion of the exam will also give me a chance to get to know you better and allow us to work together to set some important health care goals.

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Photo courtesy of Community Eye Health on Flickr

I tailor my diabetic eye work-ups for each patient that comes under my care, depending on if he/she is a newly diagnosed diabetic or have had some issues with diabetes in his/her eyes.

A complete diabetic examination may include but not limited to checking for prescription changes, lens clouding, and swelling or bleeding in the back of the eye.

With vigilant and periodic evaluations, you should reduce the chance of ever developing any of the following diabetic changes.  Diabetes may cause your vision to “fluctuate” making your vision clear during parts of your day and blurry at other times.  So, I will definitely check to see how different your prescription has changed from your previous exam.  Diabetes may also cause you to prematurely develop cataracts or clouding of your lens.  Most importantly, I will dilate your eyes to carefully inspect the retina for any bleeding, swelling, or new blood vessel growth.  Again, I assure you that no one should lose their vision to diabetes these days with close monitoring.  And if need be, I will refer you to a retinal specialist that I work in close partnership with for further evaluation.

Further testing or treatment by a retinal specialist may include:

  • A dye test to evaluate the back of the eye (fluorescein angiography)
  • Laser treatment (focal, grid, or pan retinal photocoagulation)
  • Injection with steroid to reduce swelling (triamcinolone acetonide)
  • Injection with anti-vegf medication that reduce swelling, stop the bleed, and stunt the growth of unwanted blood vessels (Avastin® or Lucentis®)

Now it’s your turn to do your part to prevent diabetes from developing in your eyes.

I always recommend four things to all my patients: 

1) Eat sensibly – according to the American Diabetes Association, fresh veggies should fill half of your plate, a lean protein for a quarter, and a carb of your choice for the last quarter
2) Exercise for 30 minutes daily
3) Take your medication(s) as recommended by your primary care physician or endocrinologist
4) Know your level of blood sugar control.  Ask your physician about your glycosylated hemoglobin or Hemoglobin A1C.

I look forward to seeing my patients back every year.  Until then, stay happy and healthy.

~Judy Tong, OD, FAAO