Suddenly, millions of children are now required to use a computer for online learning. This will equate to hundreds of hours of more screen time per child per year. There are short and long-term problems that must be considered. This blog installment will review the most common eye problems, symptoms, and causes as well as ways to eliminate them to allow for the best outcomes in our children's education. Remember, throughout this discussion that anytime eye strain, eye irritation, blurred vision is mentioned it is strongly associated with decreased mental concentration and increased distractibility.
Children are very used to staring at a screen, sometimes for hours at a time playing their favorite game or on social apps. They will concentrate on the screen without a break. So many children have the habit of staring at the computer screen and we know as the level of concentration increases the number of times the eyelids blink decreases. The normal number of blinks per minute is 12 to 14. Watch your child next time they are concentrating on the computer screen; you may see as little as 1 to 5 blinks per minute! This is a major contributor to dry and irritated eyes. AS the blink rate decreases the normal evaporation of the tear layer (water) covering our eyes increases leaving behind the salt that is normally found in tears. The salt concentration increases causing a layer of concentrated salty tears covering the eyes leading to irritated eyes.
Additionally, as a child concentrates on the screen their focus is fixed on a specific distance. This may lead to the focus of the eyes "locked" and cause blurred vision, headaches, and eye strain. How to overcome these two problems? A good rule-of-thumb is to use the 20-20-20 Rule. This is an exceptionally good pattern of vision to decrease eye irritation and focus problems. The 20-20-20 rule states that you should look 20 feet away, every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. This will relax the eye muscles and increase blinking. If you are not able to look 20 feet away just close the eyes for the 20 seconds. It may be helpful to set a timer for the 20-minute break.
Some children will have farsightedness (hypermetropia) that, with enough effort, they can focus the computer monitor clearly but at the expense of increased eye strain causing decreased concentration and increased distractibility. A comprehensive eye examination is the best way to know if your child is having a focus problem that may cause learning problems. Have your child see an optometrist or ophthalmologist on an annual basis for an annual check-up prior to each new school year
Most computers initially were set-up for use by adults. So, often the computer is too high and not at the optimal angle for viewing, this will lead to eye strain. A child may also have difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor or foot support. The best and most efficient angle for viewing a monitor is to view it slightly downward at 15 degrees. This is the best angle for reducing binocular vision problems which cause headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, and eye irritation.
Instead of a bright overhead light or high levels of lighting in the room, the lighting should be lower and the position of the lighting of the light source should be such that it illuminated the entire workspace evenly and without reflections on the paperwork, desktop, or computer monitor.
The optimal room lighting for computer use will have the following characteristics. First, the level of lighting should be about half of that in a classroom or normally lighted room. Secondary, the lighting should be flicker-free. Most of us have noted flicker in light especially the fluorescent tube lighting but it is also found in some LED lighting. Flicker, even when it is above the ability to perceive the flicker is associated with eye strain and fatigue. Third, the light should be designed to reduce glare. This may be done with a diffuser or design that eliminates the light from a point-source to a more diffused source. Fourth, the light should be low in blue-light output.
Blue light, which is in the 400 to 450nm range is a visible light that is blue to blue-violet in appearance. It is produced naturally by the sun, artificial lighting, computer monitors, and smartphones. Computer monitors and smartphones may have a setting to reduce the blue light produced. Additionally, eyeglasses may be made with a special filter known as a HEV (High Energy Visible light) added to the lenses. This filter will reduce the blue light. As for the artificial lighting for the room and computer workspace, it should be of low blue-light output. Reducing the blue light, will contribute to reduced eyestrain, less eye irritation, and reduced effect on the wake/sleep cycle. As blue light cumulative exposure is linked to cataract formation, macular degeneration (AMD), and dry eye, reducing the exposure to blue light will contribute to healthy vision throughout life. Just as you apply sunscreen to your child when exposed to UV light outdoors, protection from blue light is just as critical.
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This article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat cure, or prevent any disease.