Everyone’s glued to their screens nowadays – phones, computers, iPads, laptops – but none more than our children who are being brought up in the digital age. As Gold Coast and Tweed Heads optometrists, we have observed the massive increase in screen usage and routinely question each patient about their screen time. I have written before about the huge role extensive screen time plays in the development of myopia or shortsightedness. Recently however I have seen several young patients who are clearly screen addicts who are showing signs of a different problem: dry eyes.
I am seeing children who are suffering from dry eyes related to ‘digital eye strain’ from the hours they spend staring at screens. Symptoms of dry eye include a gritty feeling in the eye, crusting on eyelids, feeling like there’s something in your eye, redness, blurry vision and light sensitivity.
Studies on the topic of Dry Eye and Digital Eye Strain
Evidence from studies indicates dry eye and digital eye strain is an issue in kids today and prevalence of dry eye in children is higher than ever. Studies show that 80 per cent of teenagers may experience significant eye strain including tired, dry eyes after using digital devices for more than two hours straight. Other research found that 68 per cent of pre-schoolers aged three to five regularly use computers and over half participate in regular online activity. The average time eight to 18-year-olds use digital devices is 7.5 hours per day and even pre-schoolers use electronic screens for up to 2.5 hours a day.
What causes Dry Eyes?
The main driver of this type of dry eyes is blocked oil ducts along the edge of the eyelids that become clogged with stagnant oils due to poor blinking. When looking at digital screens on phones, computers, iPads etc, we often don’t do a full blink and are more likely to do a partial blink than if reading hard copy material, resulting in reduced ocular surface lubrication. The type of screens used, viewing distances, how many hours a day they use digital devices and whether they multi-screen all have an impact and concurrent screen use is associated with a higher incidence of digital eye strain symptoms.
A simple solution is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: It’s important to take a 20 second break from screens every 20 minutes and look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres, or just into the distance) for around 20 seconds. This preventative measure will help normal tear flow and reduce the likelihood of blockages forming.
If we observe significant blockages in these oil ducts we will prescribe treatment to unblock them and re-establish normal oil flow using heat and gentle massage of the eyelids. Longer term reduced near time and remembering to blink is the key to maintaining normal function. And remember less screen time also helps reduce the risk of becoming short sighted in kids!
I recommend all kids have a check up at least every 2 years so if you have any concerns about the amount of screen time your child is using then book them in for assessment: not only for their vision and focussing skills but now we must consider their risk of developing dry eyes as well!!
Post by: Andrew Bowden, Optometrist