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What Is the Long-Term Impact of Virtual Learning on Children’s Eyes?

Kids, like adults, are spending more time online. At some point during the COVID-19 pandemic, many children attended school via Zoom and completed assignments online. The trend toward more screen time — whether playing games or being in touch with friends — is likely to continue even after everyone returns to the classroom. 

We already know that prolonged screen time can cause digital eye strain as well as dry eye symptoms, among other problems in children and adults. There is some indication that extended exposure to blue light may impact the development of retinal cells. However, studies on actual subjects still need to be done to establish a clear connection. 

Dry Eyes

Spending a long time in front of screens can impact how quickly our tears evaporate, because we blink around 66% less when using a computer compared to other daily activities. When tears evaporate too quickly and aren’t replenished with blinking our eyes start to feel dry and gritty. So remember to blink every few seconds to prevent your eyes from drying out!

Blue Light Exposure

Screens, such as those that appear on computers, phones and tablets emit blue light. Recent studies have shown that overexposure to blue light can damage the retinal cells at the back of your eyes. This may increase the risk of vision issues such as age-related macular degeneration which eventually leads to permanent loss of vision. 

Excess blue light has also been shown to disrupt the circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep patterns, as it tricks your internal clock into thinking that it is the middle of the day. This may lead to difficulty in falling asleep, insomnia, and daytime fatigue.

Digital Eye Strain

Nearly 60% of people who routinely use computers or digital devices experience symptoms of digital eye strain — also called computer vision syndrome. Symptoms of eye strain include eye fatigue and discomfort, dry eye, headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, eye twitching, and red eyes. 

Taking frequent breaks from your screen can help reduce eye strain and neck, back and shoulder pain during your workday.

It is recommended to take at least one 10-minute break every hour. During these breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to relieve tension and muscle aches. 

Also, look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This relaxes the focusing lens inside the eye to prevent fatigue.

How to Make Virtual Learning Safer For Your Child

The following tips can lessen the impact of screens on your child’s eyes:

  • Reduce overall screen time 
  • Encourage frequent breaks
  • Use accessories that filter blue light (for example, blue light glasses)
  • Schedule regular eye exams

Make Sure Your Child Gets Routine Eye Exams

Children need comprehensive eye exams to assess the health of their eyes, correct their vision and spot potential problems which can affect learning and behavior. 

If you are concerned about the effect of virtual learning and screen time on your child’s eyes, or if you’re due for a checkup, schedule an eye doctor‘s appointment at Child & Family Eye Care in The Woodlands. 

Q&A

What are blue light glasses?

Blue light glasses, also known as computer glasses, effectively block the transmission of blue light emitted from devices and computer screens. They often include a coating to reduce glare to further reduce eye strain. These glasses can be purchased with or without a prescription. 

What’s the 20-20-20 rule?

If you find yourself gazing at screens all day, whether your computer, smartphone, iPad or television, you’re at risk of experiencing eye strain. So make sure you schedule frequent breaks from your screen and follow the 20-20-20 rule; every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. And while you’re at it, use this time to get up, walk around, and stretch. 

How Smartphone Apps Help Low-Income Communities

People who don’t have in-person access to an eye doctor may go years without getting their eyes examined. Now, thanks to smartphone technology, people in low-resource communities or who find it difficult to visit their eye doctor for other reasons can now have access to certain eye exams.

Even if a person doesn’t own a smartphone, volunteers or other people in their community can conduct a simple vision screening test via a phone app. If the app identifies problems, it could signal the need for an in-person eye exam.

Vision Problems Are Not Being Checked

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 2.2 billion people globally have a near or distance vision impairment, with rates of unaddressed near vision impairment at greater than 80% in western, eastern and central subregions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the United States, only 13% of those experiencing visual symptoms, ranging from poor night vision and blurry vision to red eyes and double vision, visited their eye doctor for an eye exam and treatment.

How Can We Get People to Undergo Annual Eye Exams?

According to a study published in the Lancet Digital Health, using smartphones for eye screening and referrals could triple the number of people seeking primary care for eye disorders and boost the uptake of hospital services in low-resource settings.

This Lancet study, conducted in Kenya, demonstrates how smartphone-based screening allows non-expert community volunteers to visit homes and conduct eye exams, freeing up capacity among specialized eye care services.

While smartphone apps aren’t a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam by an eye doctor, they certainly can help. They may assist in managing ongoing eye conditions and notify the patient you when a doctor’s help is required.

By eliminating an initial visit to the eye doctor, patients can get their eyes checked from the comfort of their own home. Only if an eye problem is detected will they need to go visit the eye doctor.

This isn’t to say that people should not go to their eye doctor, but if for some reason it’s financially difficult to go on an annual basis, or they don’t have direct access to an eye doctor, a smartphone app is a great solution.

To learn more about smartphone apps that conduct vision screening tests, contact Child & Family Eye Care in The Woodlands today.

At Child & Family Eye Care, we put your family’s needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 281-363-4362 or book an appointment online to see one of our The Woodlands eye doctors.

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Q&A

What can an eye exam app do?

Vision screening apps allow you to measure your visual acuity using your smartphone and help determine whether you need an in-person exam by an eye doctor. The app may measure your lens power, test for color perception and vision distortions, and monitor possible vision changes related to eye conditions and diseases like macular degeneration. It may even locate an eye care provider nearby and enable you to book an appointment.

What can in-person eye exams detect?

A comprehensive eye exam can assess your vision and diagnose eye disease. Eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, can go undetected for years because their symptoms may not become apparent until the condition is at a more advanced stage. Unfortunately, by then it may be too late to prevent irreversible vision loss and even blindness.