Children’s Vision & Effects of Electronic Devices

A lot has changed over the last year – from the way children learn to the way they play. Our world has become exceedingly digitized, and children’s vision and eye health have been impacted as a result. Fortunately, there are ways that parents and optometrists can help diagnose, treat and prevent conditions that are becoming prevalent like digital eye strain and the risk of myopia.

Digital Eye Strain

What is it? Digital eye strain is the discomfort experienced after looking at screens – computers, tablets, smart phones, video games, television – for more than two hours at a time. 

According to a recent survey commissioned by the Alberta Association of Optometrists (AAO), three in four Alberta parents say their children’s time spent on digital devices has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with approximately 40 to 50 per cent of a child’s waking hours spent on these devices per day.¹  This increases to 60 per cent of waking hours for teenagers.²

What are the symptoms? The research reveals that poor behaviour is the top cited symptom of digital eye strain in children, followed by reduced attention span; tired eyes; eye strain; shoulder, back or neck pain; and headaches.

How can digital eye strain be prevented? To start, it is important to be mindful of how much time a child spends on digital devices. The AAO recommends the following screen time for children:
0 to 2 years: Zero screen time, except for live video-chatting using programs like Facetime and Skype. 
2 to 5 years: One hour per day, with parental monitoring.  
5 to 18 years: Ideally no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time. It’s difficult to monitor the total hours when combined with school; however, parents should consider the impact on their child’s development and needs.

There are also easy, every-day preventative measures that can be taken to help reduce the risks of digital eye strain:
Just walk away. Take a break for a few minutes and give your eyes a rest. Focus on something in the distance.
Eliminate screen glare by reducing overhead lighting.
Position the computer slightly below eye level and at arm’s length.
Increase text size on digital devices.
Adjust screen brightness.

How can an optometrist help? Your optometrist can recommend a customized solution, based on your child’s digital habits, to help prevent the adverse effects of digital eye strain. They may recommend computer glasses, which can help reduce eye fatigue. 

Myopia

What is it? Also known as nearsightedness, myopia is a condition in which near objects are seen clearly, but distant objects appear blurred. Twelve per cent of Alberta parents say their child was diagnosed with myopia in the last year. Studies estimate that half of the world’s population will be myopic by 2050³ and there is a correlation between screen use and myopia.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms may include squinting, frowning and/or holding objects like books very close to the face.

How can myopia be prevented? Young children who develop myopia are more likely to experience worsening nearsightedness with age, which can lead to a higher risk of severe conditions like glaucoma, cataract and retinal detachment later in life. To protect children’s eyes during these important developmental years, parents are encouraged to balance screen time with more outdoor time. 

How can an optometrist help? Many vision and eye health conditions are difficult to detect without an eye exam, so it’s important to book annual comprehensive eye exams for children.  If diagnosed with myopia, your optometrist can help identify the best treatment method for your child, which may include specialty-designed eyeglass lenses, multifocal soft contact lenses, Ortho-K contact lenses and atropine eye drops. 

Comprehensive Eye Exams

Annual eye exams for children are very important, as their vision and eye health changes quickly during developmental years. Children often are unaware that they have a vision issue, because they believe that what they are seeing and experiencing is normal. Parents can help be on the watch for symptoms that their child may have a vision or eye health issue. However, problems can be hard to spot, particularly if the issue is only in one eye. 

A simple 20-minute comprehensive eye exam can help diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and disorders affecting the eyes and visual systems, ensuring that children are set up to reach their full potential.

Plus, there’s Alberta Health coverage towards children’s eye exams until their 19th birthday.
Survey details

This survey was conducted by Angus Reid on behalf of the Alberta Association of Optometrists between February 26 and March 2, 2021, among a sample of 551 Albertans with children aged 18 and under. The interviews were conducted online in English, and respondents were sourced using the Angus Reid Forum online panel. 
1 based on the assumption that children sleep between 8-11 hours per day
2 based on the assumption that teenagers sleep 8 hours per day
3 Holden BA, Fricke TR, Wilson DA et al. Global prevalence of myopia and high myopia and temporal trends from 2000 through 2050. Ophthalmology 2016; 123: 1036-1042