March 06, 2020
1 min read

Altered vision from digital device use in children alarms ODs

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Glen T. Steele, OD, FCOVD, FAAO
Glen T. Steele

ATLANTA — Physicians have noted that steadily increasing digital device use among children is becoming a significant health issue, and optometrists have found patterns linking extensive screen time and altered visual acuity, according to a presenter at SECO.

“Children are growing up in a world saturated with digital media,” Glen T. Steele, OD, FCOVD, FAAO, from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn., said during his presentation. “However, it’s not the device that is the problem; it’s the prolonged use that interferes with all kinds of development from social to psychological.”

Steele started his talk emphasizing that digital devices are as important for children in certain circumstances as they are for working adults and that the rule should not be “simply take them away.”

However, the potential consequences from extensive digital device use among preschool and kindergarten-aged children include reductions in motor skills for writing, vocabulary and communication skills, eye contact, decision making and cognitive control, along with developmental delays and associations with ADHD symptoms such as self-regulation.

Steele also noted that devices are often held inappropriately close to the face, which can affect visual development.

In his own observations, he has seen children whose sight appears normal based on retinoscopy, but they still complain about problems seeing far away. He has also found increasing cases of children with abnormally large pupils.

“The eye is not necessarily the cause, but if we can identify what these kids are doing with their devices during examinations, we may be able to help them develop the motor and focusing skills that are necessary while making the parent aware of the need for them to take breaks,” Steele said.

The final portion of his presentation focused on available guidelines, such as the WHO’s 2019 “Physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 years of age,” which breaks down recommendations for limited screen time and increased physical activity by age groups.

While the WHO guideline was not created with the potential link to myopia in mind, Steele said that the need for more movement and focus further away from less than the length of the arm was crucial for childhood development, including vision. – by Talitha Bennett


Steele GT. Digital device use in young children. Presented at: SECO; March 4-10, 2020; Atlanta, Ga.

Disclosure: Steele reports no relevant financial disclosures.