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Computer Vision Syndrome: Kids, Computers and Digital Eye Damage

When kids head back to school, they often trade time at the park, beach or the pool for hours in front of a computer screen. But are their eyes equipped to handle the change?

It’s now common for school-age children to use a computer or digital device for hours each day, and that doesn’t include time spent in front of a TV or gaming system at home. This increased exposure puts them at greater risk for Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS—a significant health condition that can cause back and neck pain, dry eyes, and headaches, and many eye health professionals suggest that this exposure may contribute to the development of myopia.[1]

“Overall school performance is so dependent on sharp, comfortable vision,” says Amy Fortescue, VSP network optometrist at EyeQ Ramsgate Beach. “A great deal of what children learn is through their eye sight, so it is important this not be overlooked.” It is generally quoted that 80% of what we learn is visual, which means that CVS may have a major impact on students’ productivity and classroom performance.[2]

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“Signs that your child may be having issues related to computer use include dry or tired eyes, headaches, neck pain, and blurred vision,” says Dr. Fortescue. “Children might also experience issues with focusing on pixilated images after a period of time, which can be made even worse by not wearing eyewear, when needed.”

How to Prevent Computer Vision Syndrome Problems

So what steps can you take to help prevent CVS and other vision-related problems? Be sure your kids visit an eye doctor for regular eye exams. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately one in six middle school students (ages 10-14) wear some type of corrective eyewear. Without a proper prescription, these children could experience difficulties seeing the whiteboard or reading their textbooks at school.

Based on the manner and frequency of computer use, eyewear can assist the eyes in focusing more comfortably and reduce eye strain whilst using the computer. Vision therapy is another option that can help an individual develop improved focusing ability, reducing those deficiencies that can contribute to CVS.

Other practical steps—such as screen placement and timed breaks—can help prevent CVS before it starts. “Remind your child to take frequent breaks and look at something approximately 6 meters away,” says Dr. Fortescue. “This will give their eyes a break from the digital screen and allow them to focus on something further away.”

More Easy Tips to Prevent Computer Vision Syndrome

Daily Dose It

As with TV viewing, computer use should be timed according to age (see the chart below for guidelines). Remember the old adage, all things in moderation, and apply it to all digital devices.

De-Glare It

Keep the monitor clean and use a glare-reducing monitor filter, if appropriate.

Break It

Every hour, have your child take a 5-10-minute break from the computer (the same goes for you).

Face It

The computer screen should be 50-60 cm from your child’s face (ditto for mum and dad). And, his or her feet need to touch the floor. There should be a slight downward angle from face to screen.

Wear It

If your child wears prescription glasses—for computer use or otherwise—make sure he or she has them on.

Age Suggested Time Limit (maximum)
Under 10 30 minutes a day
10–13 1 hour a day
14–15 2 hours a day
16–18 Parents’ best judgment

[1] Merrillees, Louise. “Eye Health ‘Time Bomb’ As Kids Stay Indoors, Increase Screen Exposure.” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 18 Dec. 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-19/childrens-eyesight-damaged-from-lack-of-outdoor-time/7040942. Accessed 15 December 2016.

[2] American Optometric Association, “School-aged Vision: Ages 6 to 18 Years of Age,” http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/childrens-vision/school-aged-vision-6-to-18-years-of-age; Accessed 21 December 2016.