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prevent eye strain in children

Babies, toddlers, and young children have to perspective on what 20/20 vision should be. They only know what they experience at the moment, and that can be a blurred perspective if they’re experiencing undiagnosed vision loss or eye strain.

And, in today’s digital, screen-abundant lifestyles, we’re seeing increasing numbers of children with debilitating eye strain – called computer vision syndrome. As a parent or guardian, it’s your job to ensure children get their eyes checked as recommended by the American Optometric Association and to help them set healthy boundaries around screen time. 

5 Ways To Minimize Or Prevent Eye Strain

The earlier we detect or diagnose potential eye conditions, eye strain, or potential vision loss, the sooner your child benefits from a clear view of the world around them. This is especially true for common childhood conditions such as a lazy eye or crossed eyes, which can become permanent or require surgical intervention if they aren’t treated while the eye muscles and optic nerve connections are developing.

Beyond diagnosable eye diseases or conditions, there are five significant steps parents and guardians should take to prevent eye strain and develop healthy vision practices for their children.

Schedule annual eye exams for your child

Just as your child attends annual wellness visits and routine dental exams, children should have a complete eye exam once a year unless recommended otherwise. While general eye exams are a part of regular pediatric visits, there are minor vision issues or signs of eye strain your pediatrician might miss. 

And, there’s no need to worry about toddlers or younger children who don’t read yet. We have special charts and tools to diagnose vision loss and prescribe appropriate lenses regardless of literacy. Visit How Optometrists Check Your Child’s Eyes if They Can’t Read for more details.

Recognize signs of eye strain

Children may not come right out and complain about eye strain symptoms, especially if it’s been their normal from Day 1. However, knowing and recognizing signs of eye strain minimizes the time your child spends with blurred vision before its corrected.

These include:

  • Red or watery eyes
  • Frequent eye rubbing
  • Headaches
  • Holding books or screens really close – or far away – to focus
  • Squinting or frequently blinking to focus
  • Tilting the head when focusing
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Struggles with reading or writing
  • Behavioral disruptions in class (because they can’t see the board or visual learning tools used by the teacher)
  • Fatigue

If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your optometrist to see whether or not they’re vision-related.

Create healthy boundaries around screen time

We mentioned that “computer vision syndrome” is a newly added diagnosis to the optometry repertoire. The AOA describes it as “…a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use.”

Please monitor your child’s online screen time. While some screen-related conditions are reversible, others are not. Severe dry eye is one of them. Here are some of the many guidelines around children and screentime:

  • Until 18 months of age, limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
  • Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
  • For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on weekends.
  • For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
  • Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.

As optometrists, we have our recommendations to prevent screen-related eye strain in children (and adults). They are:

  • Always sit at least arm’s length from computer/gadget/phone screens
  • Reduce screen glare
  • Adjust lighting (screens shouldn’t be brighter than surrounding light)
  • Follow the 20/20 Rule – taking a break every 20 minutes and looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Looking into the distance allows the eyes to relax.
  • Blink regularly and use artificial tears as needed to keep eyes moist, hydrated, and cleansed
  • Stop using screens at least one (preferably two) hours before bedtime

Avoid using more screen time as a reward

We understand more screen time is compelling, but it undermines multiple study findings indicating extra screen time carries more negative side effects and outcomes. Instead, use other pleasures and favorite things/activities as rewards and keep your boundaries around screen time. If you are set on using more screen time as a reward, keep daily screen usage below recommended hours, so the extra time falls within healthy boundaries.

Get a good night’s sleep to prevent eye strain

Lack of sleep causes general fatigue, increasing the risk of eye strain and exacerbating existing eye strain. Being tired also leads to over rubbing your eyes and dry eyes. Children need more sleep than adults. And, did you know that using screens (blue light exposure) before bed disrupts circadian rhythm and melatonin production, further diminishing sleep quality?

In addition to keeping screens out of children’s bedroom spaces, do all you can to ensure they have the quiet, security, and comfortable surroundings to foster a good night’s sleep. According to sleepfoundation.org, daytime naps and nighttime sleep requirements by age are:  

  • Newborns: Between 14 and 17 hours
  • Infants: Between 12 and 15 hours
  • Toddlers: Between 11 and 14 hours
  • Preschoolers: Between 10 and 13 hours
  • School-aged: Between 9 and 11 hours
  • Teenagers: Between 8 to 10 hours was considered appropriate (although athletes and active teens may need more)
  • Young adults: Between 7 to 9 hours

Even adults need between seven and nine hours to be fully rested and reduce daytime eye strain.

Suspect Your Child Suffers From Eye Strain? Give Us A Call

Are you noticing signs of eye strain in your child? Contact Atlantic Eye Institute, (904) 241-7865, and schedule an eye exam. Your child’s mental, emotional, and learning well-being depends on clear, accurate vision.

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