In today’s hyper-connected world, it is common to use some form of digital device multiple times throughout the day as an adult. However, recent statistics point to a rise in the use of smartphones, tablets, and computers among children as well. In fact, many children are introduced to screens from a very early age, making their use second nature by the time they are starting school.
While technology has offered many advantages to adults and children alike, nearly two in every five children are being diagnosed with a form of digital eye strain known as computer vision syndrome.
Adults who have computer vision syndrome are often quick to connect the dots between screen time and discomfort, but children are more likely to ignore the issue altogether.
Computer vision syndrome is caused by over-exposure to screens that emit blue lights, like mobile devices and tablets, typically impacting those who spend more than three hours per day in front of a screen. For some, the condition comes with a slew of uncomfortable symptoms that can be difficult to diagnose properly from the start. This makes it important for parents to understand the warning signs of eye strain in children as well as methods for prevention.
The Warning Signs
Adults are likely to recognise digital eye strain quickly in themselves, but parents must be attuned to the warning signs of the condition to help their children prevent long-term eye damage. The most common symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:
- Neck or shoulder pain and stiffness
- Dry or irritated eyes
- A reduced attention span
- Declining behaviour
Children are more susceptible to computer vision syndrome and the digital eye strain that goes hand in hand. This high susceptibility is due to the fact that children’s eyes are still developing, and added strain from screen time can cause problems in both the short- and long-term. Additionally, children are less likely to use a mobile device or laptop in an optimal way, often holding the screen too close to their face during use. Doing so for a prolonged period of time contributes to eye strain which may ultimately lead to computer vision syndrome.
Misdiagnosis is Common
As computer vision syndrome becomes more common among young children, parents need to be aware of the symptoms as well as the potential for misdiagnosis. A group of medical negligence solicitors in the UK explains that problems with vision can make it harder for children to focus on necessary tasks, particularly while in school.
Some researchers link vision problems to a child’s ability to organise their thoughts, process information, and pay attention when it is needed most. Medical professionals may be quick to offer a diagnosis of ADHD because of these common issues, when computer vision syndrome is truly the culprit.
When diagnosed with ADHD incorrectly, children are often put on a regimen of prescription medications to help them focus more intently. These treatments, while generally effective for those who truly have ADHD, may do little for a child with computer vision syndrome. Taking unnecessary medication that does not treat the underlying issue can create unexpected and unwanted side effects. Fortunately, parents can take several steps to get the right diagnosis that avoids these issues in the first place.
While computer vision syndrome may seem unavoidable for children in a technology-powered environment, there are solutions to the problem.
Parents can be diligent about getting their children’s eyes tested at least once per year to get ahead of any eye strain issues that may be at play. Additionally, prevention can be as simple as limiting screen time for children each day, and encouraging breaks from the screen at least every 20 minutes. This gives the eyes a moment to reset and adjust, away from the blue light of the device.
Children should also be encouraged to play outdoors. Not only does this limit screen time during the day, but it also decreases the risk of long-term effects of computer vision syndrome early on.
In most cases, digital eye strain and the conditions related to it does not have to be a lifelong issue impacting a child’s eye health. Parents who stay in touch with their child’s overall well-being, and pay close attention to symptoms that may link back to computer vision syndrome can take quick action to remedy the problem.
A visit to the eye doctor is typically all it takes to see if there is an underlying eye strain condition, and beginning to limit screen time and encouraging breaks from device use helps reduce the potential for computer vision syndrome and its symptoms.
Jose Calvo is a health editor with a degree in Journalism and Social Communications, currently writing for several UK publications such as the Talk Health Partnership and Socialist Health. He works for a digital agency in Leeds called 90 Digital, helping health charities to raise awareness on campaigns about misunderstood or commonly misdiagnosed conditions. Find him on Twitter at @morienus