Aug 03, 2020 11:30 AM

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into the new school year, it looks like kids and adults will continue to experience more at-home screen time than ever. Whether it’s the result of hours of remote learning, online entertainment, or working on the computer at a makeshift home office, digital eye strain is likely to be part of our future.

The good news is that looking at a computer, smartphone, or TV screen for long periods will not “ruin your eyes,” despite the old warnings.

Symptoms of Digital Eye Strain

“However,” says John A. Morn Eye Center Ophthalmologist Griffin Jardine, MD, “anyone can experience some discomfort from staring at a screen for too long. It could manifest as blurred vision or tired eyes that tear or sting—or even headaches at the front of your head.”

In terms of possible long-term effects, research indicates that kids who spend most of their time indoors in front of screens may be at greater risk for myopia (nearsightedness).  

Tips to Avoid Computer Eye Strain

Jardine offers the following advice to help children and adults prevent digital eye strain:

  • Position screens about an arm’s length away and a bit below your line of vision. This protects vision, as well as the neck and posture.
  • Avoid using a screen outside. When indoors, point the screen away from bright lights to help reduce glare.
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule: take a break from the screen every 20 minutes (set a timer if you need to); look at least 20 feet away from the screen for at least 20 seconds.
  • Alternate reading e-books with real books and encourage kids to look up and out the window every few chapters. Insert paper clips or bookmarks to remind them to look up.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen to your comfort level.
  • Spend time outdoors when possible. Being outside has been shown to reduce the progression of nearsightedness.
  • Stay hydrated and remember to blink regularly to keep your eyes from feeling dry and tired.
  • Use lubricating eye drops if your eyes feel dry and itchy (not “red-eye” relief drops).

“With all the digital screen time we’re experiencing, it’s more important than ever to remember to step away from time to time and to spend time outdoors,” says Jardine. “Adults tend to be better at this than kids, who will power through hours in front of a screen. If you haven’t done so already, now’s a good time to set some guidelines.” 

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