Smartphones. iPads. Laptops. Video games.
There’s no question: Modern kids are growing up surrounded by screens — screens held close to their faces, more and more each day, it seems.
A recent report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reveals around 97,000 Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 spent at least seven hours every day in front of a television or computer. And, according to the organization of Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, complaints of eye discomfort and fatigue are on the rise.
So what can parents do to help their tech-obsessed kids avoid bothersome — and potentially harmful — eye strain? We asked ophthalmologist Dr. Neeru Gupta, chief of glaucoma at the University of Toronto, for advice.
What is eye strain, exactly?
People are uncomfortable, their eyes may be painful, and it might be associated with headaches, difficulty focusing, a burning sensation and some general visual problems.
Is excessive screen time is impacting kids’ eyes — causing eye strain or other problems?
These kids are always on their devices . . . and you might not be aware they’re on these devices because they’re hand-held and in their rooms. The blue light, if they’re on it into the night, can actually prevent a good night’s rest. A tired kid may not perform as well as somebody who’s well-rested. We also know without a doubt that the usage of these devices reduces your blink rate. If there’s reduced blinking, there’s a greater chance of having a dry eye. Video games also task the eyes so much more because there’s continuous motion.
Do you think there should be more research in this area?
I think there’s a lot of interest in it. There is a rise everywhere in nearsightedness among children. That’s a fact. So, then of course, the question is — and this is the big question — is it linked to the greater use of devices that are held close? There is no evidence that links the two — none. But it’s a very important question. More work needs to be done.
Tell me more about the issue with kids holding these devices too close.
Kids, when they’ve been using books, they hold them at a decent distance. The first thing that happens when you’ve got a device is suddenly you’re holding the device five to 23 centimetres closer to your face than something that’s in print. Any time you’re reading closer, your muscles inside the eye to keep it in focus, they work harder. The best way to relax the eye is to look away into the distance.
So what should parents do if their child seems to be having eye troubles?
If your kids are having headaches or blurred vision or symptoms of fatigue with their eyes, what do you do? Obviously, it’s more common with the use of these devices. The very first thing to do is get their eyes examined by an ophthalmologist and make sure they have a prescription if they need one.