From handheld video game consoles to smartphones to tablets in the classroom, children are more glued to digital devices than ever before.
But that increased use can result in red, itchy or tired eyes -- symptoms sometimes associated with digital eye strain.
Also known as computer vision syndrome, the vision problem started getting diagnosed about 10 years ago, says Dr. Mark Jacquot, clinical director of Vision Care at LensCrafters.
"It was more common back then for programmers, accountants -- people who were spending an inordinate amount of time in front of a desktop computer," says Jacquot. "Now, though, with the advent of handheld games, smartphones and increase use of tablets in schools, there's a lot more kids coming in with computer vision syndrome."
Indeed, according to a recent survey by the American Optometric Association, 80% of children between the ages of 10-17 said their eyes burned, itched or felt tired or blurry after using a digital device. Since 80% of what children learn is through the eyes, says Jacquot, digital eye strain "can have a major impact on a student's school performance."
Not using digital devices isn't necessarily the answer, but there are ways to better manage their use.
Symptoms of digital eye strain
According to Jacquot, digital eye strain is temporary discomfort that can occur after two or more hours of digital device use. Symptoms include:
-Difficulty reading small print
"Any number of devices can cause it -- computer, TV, tablets, e-readers, video games -- particularly when being used simultaneously, at different distances and different font sizes," says Jacquot.
If your child exhibits these symptoms after using a digital device, Jacquot recommends bringing him or her in for a comprehensive eye exam.
Preventing digital eye strain
There are easy ways to help prevent digital eye strain. These include:
-Limiting device use: The American Optometric Association recommends limiting daily tech time to two hours or less for kids of preschool and kindergarten age, and for elementary-age children to take frequent breaks.
-Follow the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of digital device use, children (as well as adults) should look away a distance of about 20 feet for 20 seconds. "That gives you the break that you need," says Jacquot.
-Hold devices correctly: "The distance that a child works with a screen or with a video device is important," says Jacquot. He recommends that for desktops and laptops, children sit far enough away where they can extend their arm with their palm on the screen. For hand-held devices, they should hold it right below eye level at a distance far enough to read the screen.
-Change settings: Dimming lights and increasing font size on devices can limit eye strain.
-Remember to blink: Eyes tend to dry out when focusing for long periods of time, so remind your kids to blink frequently when using a digital device. Eye drops can also help.