Remote schooling: Are your kids more susceptible to computer vision syndrome?

The 2020 school year is different – there’s no question about that: Due to the pandemic and the need for physical distancing, many students will spend part or all of their time learning remotely, by way of computer.

Though eye strain symptoms are common among computer users, you can take steps to alleviate discomfort kids may feel as they learn from home.

Computer vision syndrome

Spending extended periods in front of a screen is unlikely to cause permanent vision damage, but it can produce unwanted symptoms, including:

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • Eye twitching
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Red or burning eyes

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, he or she may have computer vision syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain. CVS occurs because our eyes react differently when viewing a computer screen versus printed material. Why?:

  • The characters aren’t as sharply defined.
  • There is less contrast between the images and background.
  • Reflection and glare from screens are common.
  • Viewing angles are different than with written material; the continual eye focus and movement can cause eye strain and fatigue.
  • The viewing distance isn’t ideal, creating tension in the back and neck muscles.
  • Many people wear glasses that aren’t designed specifically for computer use.

Computer glasses and blue light blockers

If you notice any CVS symptoms in your children after a couple of weeks of virtual learning, see an eye care professional for an evaluation and to rule out the need for prescription glasses.

Computer glasses

Your child’s eye care provider may recommend prescription computer glasses designed to help eyes specifically focus on computer screens. Some ordinary glasses don’t accommodate the viewing distance or angles of computer screens. Kids may tilt their heads to see different parts of the screen, which could lead to back and neck strain.

Blue light-blocking glasses and screen protectors

Computer glasses are not the same as glasses that block the blue light computer screens emit from reaching the eye. You can purchase blue light-blocking glasses without a prescription and add blue light-blocking glazes to prescription computer glasses. Some manufacturers make blue light-blocking screen protectors for monitors, phones and tablets as well.

Blue light is a short wave, high-energy type of light capable of passing through the eye’s cornea and reaching the retina (the part of the eye that communicates with the brain to produce vision). There is no conclusive evidence blue light can permanently damage the retina, but blue light-blocking glasses prevent much or all of the blue light from reaching the eye. Whether these glasses actually reduce eye strain is still up for debate.

5 proven ways to reduce digital eye strain

To protect your child’s eyes and prevent CVS symptoms, ophthalmologists recommend these five steps:

Blink and use artificial tears

Humans naturally blink about 15 times per minute. When staring at a computer screen or other digital device, we blink half as often. Blinking naturally lubricates the eyes and keeps them from drying out. Put a visual cue, such as a note, on your child’s computer screen to remind him or her to blink more often.

Artificial tear products can help keep your child’s eyes lubricated and a humidifier in the room can help to keep the air moist.

Use the 20-20-20 rule

Have your child set a timer for every 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, he or she should shift their eyes to something 20 feet from the computer screen and keep their attention on it for 20 seconds. And, after two hours of continuous computer use, have your child take a 15-minute screen break.

Adjust the screen brightness and glare

Staring at a screen that is brighter than the surroundings strains the eyes. Adjust the screen’s brightness so it matches the surrounding environment. Using a matte screen over the monitor may also help to reduce glare.

Use good ergonomics

Adjust your child’s monitor so his or her eyes angle downward slightly (about four to five inches below eye level). Also, make sure your child is sitting so the eyes are about 25 inches from the computer screen.

Remove contact lenses

Continuous contact lens wear while working at a computer can aggravate dry eyes. Encourage your child to give the eyes a break by wearing glasses for part of the day.

If you’re concerned about your child’s eye health due to increased screen use this school year, contact your primary care physician or find an eye care professional.


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