Digital eye strain a concern for adults, children during quarantine
As people of all ages spend more time indoors during the COVID-19 quarantine, many eye care providers are pointing out the risks for increased eye strain caused by digital device use.
Primary Care Optometry News spoke with Roshni Patel, BSC (Hons) MCOptom, professional services manager at Lenstore, about these risks and related complications for adults who are currently working from home and for children who may be in front of screens more often for both school and leisure.
Healio: What are the key concerns regarding working from home and use of digital devices?
Patel: Most of those working from home will have a device or devices set up that will allow them to complete their work as though they were at the office — but what they might overlook is making sure that the rest of their space meets the same requirements they would have in the office.
Positioning their screen about an arm’s length away and a bit below their line of vision will protect not just their vision but also their neck and posture. Having a chair with the right back support will reduce strain and discomfort after sitting for a long time, and pointing the screen away from bright lights will help reduce glare and eye fatigue.
Everyone should also make sure they take regular breaks to stand up, walk around and look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so. And at the end of the day, doing some “virtual socializing” over conferencing software can help with the isolation.
Healio: What are the tell-tale signs of digital eye strain for individuals and medical professionals to watch out for?
Patel: There are a few symptoms of digital eye strain. Mostly these are discomfort or pain — headaches at the front of your head are usually vision-related, while those at the back of your head are often due to posture, and those around your temples are due to tension.
Blurring of vision is also a common sign. If it clears on blinking, it can be an indication of a disruption of the tear film from the lack of blinking and can lead to dry, sore and red eyes. If it occurs more toward the end of the day, it can indicate an underlying prescription such as hyperopia. People who are mildly hyperopic are usually asymptomatic, but prolonged close work can make symptoms manifest.
Healio: What should parents and providers consider for children and the potential increased use of digital device during quarantine?
Patel: Working from home is a problem for adults, but children are going to be relying more on digital devices to stay entertained without afterschool clubs or opportunities to spend time with friends, as well as for their actual education. This might be video games or television, but it can also be their means of keeping up with their friends.
That’s great for keeping them occupied and happy, but research shows that children who spend the majority of their time in front of devices instead of outdoors are at greater risk for myopia and progressive myopia, particularly in cases where there’s a family history.
Healio: What are the signs that a child is struggling with vision complications?
Patel: You don’t need your child to diagnose themselves to spot when they’re having problems. Frequent signs that your child is suffering from spending too much time in front of a screen include squinting more at the television or wanting to sit closer, as well as frontal headaches, particularly toward the end of the day.
They may also have difficulty reading where they didn’t before. They might get tired quicker or miss words. They might also have problems sleeping at night.
These are the same risks that adults have. Their posture can be more at risk because children often like to hunch over or lie on the floor and don’t have as much concern for their sitting position, so it’s important to provide them with a chair that has the same support you would want for yourself.
Healio: What can we do to minimize the impact of screen use on our eyes and our bodies?
Patel: The main thing to remember is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, stand up and look away from the screen for at least 20 seconds at something that’s 20 feet or more away. This can help your eyes feel comfortable for longer as well as help with posture or back problems. You can even set up reminders on your device to help you remember.
When you take breaks, if possible, have your children takes breaks as well. Going out for exercise while social distancing or making use of a back yard to kick a ball around can be enough to significantly reduce problems with both sight and posture.
Beyond that, remaining hydrated and blinking regularly will help prevent your eyes from feeling dry and tired.