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As a pandemic reshapes our lives, the Internet becomes a big part of social and school life. Our eyes are affected. For millions of children virtual learning is now their primary method of going to school. Guidelines for protecting young eyes come from American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Sleep: Too little sleep leads to tired sore eyes. AAP recommends against sleeping in the same room with TVs computers and smartphones. Using devices past bedtime, especially for violent video games and TV shows can interfere with sleep.
Play outside: Children and adults need at least one hour of physical activity each day. Playing outside gives children’s eyes exposure to natural sunlight and a chance to focus on different distances.
20/20/20 rule: When sitting at the computer, take frequent breaks. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes; focus on an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour.
Blink: Studies show that people blink significantly less often when concentrating on a digital screen, which can leave eyes dry and irritated. Desktop and laptop computer use can be especially tough on children's eyes, because the screen is usually situated high. The child’s upper eyelids open wider, speeding evaporation of the eye’s tear film. Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine says staring at a computer can cut blinking rates by half. Encourage your child to try to blink extra, especially when they take breaks. Your pediatrician or eye doctor may recommend moisturizing eye drops or a room humidifier if your child continues to be bothered by dry eyes.
1/2/10 rule: Reduce eye fatigue by increasing font size, especially on small screens, to twice the size your child can comfortably read. The computer screen should be positioned slightly below eye level. Ideal distance for mobile phones is one foot; keep desktop devices and laptops at two feet; stay roughly 10 feet from TV screens depending on size of screen.
Adjust lighting: To cut down on glare and eye fatigue, a study published in Journal of Ophthalmology & Research says the level of lighting in a room when using a computer or other screen should be roughly half what it would be for other activities such as writing on paper or working on crafts. Try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures are not shining directly on screens. Decrease the brightness of the screen to a comfortable level for viewing.
Watch for these symptoms:
Eye fatigue. Muscles around the eye, like any others, can get tired from continued use. Concentrating on a screen for extended periods can cause concentration difficulties and headaches centered around the temple and eyes. Children may also use screen devices where lighting is less than ideal, causing fatigue from squinting.
Blurry vision. Gazing at the same distance for an extended time can cause the eye's focusing system to spasm or temporarily "lock up." More time playing outside may result in healthier vision development.
AAP recommends regular vision screenings. If your child is having blurry vision or similar eye problems, he or she may not speak up. That's why regular vision screenings are important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the AAP recommend children have their eyes checked by a pediatrician at well-child visits beginning at birth. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend. If a problem is found during one of these routine eye exams, your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist.
This column should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician.
Rorie Measure is president emeritus of Children's Reading Alliance, a grassroots initiative to encourage family literacy throughout Doña Ana County. She is a reader, writer, teacher, reading specialist and literacy trainer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.