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With the new school year only a few weeks away, digital eye strain in children and teens is likely to increase significantly in the coming months. A survey from the Alberta Association of Optometrists (AAO) revealed that most parents are unaware their children could strain their eyes from digital screens, or that there are ways to help slow the damage.

“Digital eye strain is the discomfort experienced after screen use for more than two hours at a time,” stated Jim Asuchak, the AAO’s president. “Children are, on average, spending at least double that amount of time on digital devices, and we are seeing the results in our exam chairs.”

And with all the tablets, cell phones, computers and televisions that kids have access to, parents are finding it more challenging now than ever before to limit their screen time.

The survey found that elementary school children often looked at screens for an average of four hours per day, with that number doubling for teenage children.The number was even higher for adults, with the average time spent looking at a screen hitting 10.5 hours a day.

The high-energy light that is emitted from a screen can penetrate deep into the eye, causing damage. Staring at a screen can also slow down a person’s rate of blinking, causing their eyes to become drier and have less exposure to a protective layer of liquid.

According to the AAO, there are a number of symptoms that indicate digital eye strain, including headaches, blurred vision, eye irritation, double vision, excessive tearing or dry eyes, excessive blinking or squinting, as well as shoulder, neck and back pain.

Out of the 506 people surveyed, approximately 70 per cent of adults said they experience these symptoms, and 28 per cent of children are already starting to suffer from digital eye strain. But this number may be higher than reported, because symptoms can be difficult to detect in kids.

The AAO recommends that parents watch for signs of digital eye strain in their children, including irritability, poor behavior and a reduced attention span. To help prevent eye strain, adults and children can take regular breaks, hold screens far away from their faces, increase text size on digital devices and consciously make an effort to blink more regularly.

This was one eye-opening survey.