Your kids (and you, too) might be spending hours staring at a computer screen while trying to learn (or work) virtually.
All that staring can cause things like eye fatigue, headaches, dry eye and conjunctivitis, says Dr. Radha Ram, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
But don’t worry. All of those things are temporary and easily fixable.
Ram, who has been seeing more of her patients complaining of these symptoms since schools went to virtual learning in the spring, says one of the best things children (and parents) can do is use the 20-20-20 rule.
Take 20 second breaks every 20 minutes to blink and look at something at least 20 feet away. "It’s pretty simple," she says, but "we need to remind ourselves to do that."
There are other things we can do to lessen the eye strain. These include:
• Adjusting the brightness level of the screen to be comfortable.
• Placing the screen a few inches below eye level.
• Using over-the-counter lubrication drops for the eyes as needed.
• Making sure you have good posture.
• Encouraging kids or yourself to blink more frequently.
Ram also encourages parents to balance indoor time with outdoor time. It’s not just for all the mental health and obesity prevention you might have heard about. Ram says recent studies suggest that kids who spend at least an hour a day outside are less prone to becoming nearsighted, or — if they already have nearsightedness — they are less prone to show a progression of their nearsightedness.
If kids show signs of blurred vision, dry eye or double vision, they should have an eye exam, in addition to the yearly eye exam pediatricians do. Kids younger than 6 years old should see an ophthalmologist rather than an optometrist because of the complexity of giving a kid who is not reading an eye exam. Some optometrist also are not comfortable with kids who are younger than 9 years old.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics revamped its screen-time recommendations to recognize that not all screen time is created equal.
Its recommendations are:
• Children younger than 18 months of age: Avoid the use of any screen media except video chatting (with grandparents, for example).
• Children ages 18 months to 24 months: Introduce high-quality programs or apps, but do it with your children to create a dialog about what they are seeing and how it relates to the world around them.
• Children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs that you view with your children.
• Children ages 6 and older: Place consistent limits on time spent using media, the types of media and make sure that the use of media does not take the place of sleeping, exercise and other healthy behaviors.
• Designate media-free times together such as during dinner or while driving, as well as media-free locations at home such as bedrooms.
• Have ongoing conversations about what it means to be a good citizen and be safe online and offline.