Children with digital eye strain is more common than you might think

You are most likely reading this on a computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. It’s hard to avoid using a digital device these days. In a recent survey commissioned by the AAO, Alberta parents reported that their elementary school-aged children spend an average of more than four hours a day using digital devices, with the amount of screen time nearly doubling for teenagers. Digital device usage climbs to an average of 10.5 hours per day for Alberta adults. The steady increase in the use of digital technology is resulting in more cases of digital eye strain.

Digital eye strain is caused by a combination of factors including:

  • Eye muscles working harder. When you look at close-up objects such as the screen of a tablet or cell phone, your eyes contract and converge. This causes the eye muscles to work harder, causing them to become strained and tired over time.
  • More blue light entering the eye. Digital devices emit high energy visible light, also known as blue light, which can penetrate deep into the eye.
  • Less blinking. When we look at a screen, we tend to stare and not blink as often. Fewer blinks means fewer opportunities for your eyes to be coated with a protective lubricant that helps provide relief.
Whether you or your children have an existing eye condition or have perfect vision, you may experience discomfort during or after using a digital device. Here are some of the symptoms of digital eye strain:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye irritation
  • Double vision
  • Excessive tearing or dry eyes
  • Excessive blinking or squinting
  • Shoulder, back or neck pain
Shockingly, more than 70 per cent of Alberta adults experience adverse symptoms because of digital device usage. In comparison, only 28 per cent of parents say their child experiences symptoms during or after using digital devices, but this is likely because the symptoms can be difficult to detect. Children’s symptoms can sometimes be behavioural, as they may not recognize what is causing their discomfort. Parents should watch for the following signs after their children use digital devices for extended periods of time:

  • Irritability
  • Poor behaviour
  • Reduced attention span
Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take, and encourage your children to take, to reduce the risk of digital eye strain:

  • Take regular breaks
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule by looking at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds
  • Don’t hold screens too close, especially for long periods of time
  • Eliminate screen glare by reducing overhead lighting
  • Position your computer slightly below eye level and at arm’s length
  • Increase text size on digital devices
  • Adjust screen brightness
  • Make a conscious effort to blink regularly
Additionally, it is important to visit an optometrist on a regular basis. During a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor of optometry will be able to rule out whether your digital eye strain symptoms are a result of a more serious vision or health problem. Your optometrist can also talk with you about eyewear for adults and children that is specifically designed for computer use.

Annual eye exams for Albertans are covered for children up to age 18 as well as for seniors aged 65 and over. Alberta Health also covers the cost of visits to an optometrist for eye-related emergencies or treatments.

Use the Find an Optometrist link in the top left corner to find a doctor of optometry near you.