Eye Strain and Children
Because of the current distance learning model in many school districts, a huge portion of our young people are often spending 4 or more hours per day in front of a computer screen. Needless to say, this is taxing on their visual system. For many, it is causing eye fatigue, strain, blurring, trouble keeping things in focus, and even headaches, which can all effect a student’s grade performance and overall ability to learn. The following small changes in environment and awareness can help reduce this visual stress. Included is also a resource for when you’ve reached your wits end, so if that’s you, keep reading! We hope these serve to help your child persevere through to the end of distance learning and have increased success in our age of technology!
SEE YOUR OPTOMETRIST
A good place to start is with an Annual Eye Exam. Even if you feel that your child sees 20/20, it is important to see an optometrist to check the health of the eye. Many eye diseases and conditions can be mitigated if caught early. One such example is Dry Eye. EyeOptics has a dry eye clinic to take images of the surface of the eye and meibomian glands to check for any disease or dysfunction. Some of symptoms of dry eye include stinging, burning, redness, and blurred vision.
An eye exam may reveal the need for glasses or contacts. The proper prescription can do wonders for relieving eye strain. Even those who don’t wear glasses on a daily basis, can benefit from a small plus lens prescription to relieve visual stress. In addition, screens emit blue light which can add to visual stress. Blue light blocking filters are available for prescription glasses to help minimize eye strain. Also, whether you need a prescription or not, your optometrist can provide a variety of sunglasses to protect your eyes when you are out in the sun.
Perhaps you’ve hit a roadblock with your child’s vision and learning. You’ve tried all of the above suggestions. It has been determined by an optometrist that your child has, or has been corrected to, 20/20. Yet school is still a struggle. Focus is a struggle. You’ve tried tutoring. It may be time to consider Specialty Treatments. There is much more to vision than just 20/20 – the brain has to interpret what the eyes see. Vision Therapy is available to treat visual skills deficits associated with reading and learning struggles, eye tracking, amblyopia, strabismus, concussion and other traumatic brain injury. A simple 15-minute visual skills screening will reveal if there are underlying visual issues that need to be addressed. This screening is available at EyeOptics as part of the regular eye exam or as a stand-alone appointment for a small fee.
In addition, the Neurolens system, the latest development in technology for vision, measures how much the eyes are over-compensating when working at distance, intermediate and especially at near. The resulting therapeutic lenses help reduce headaches, dizziness, neck/shoulder pain, tired eyes and computer eye strain.
TIPS TO TRY AT HOME
The importance of simple ergonomics can be underestimated. Use good posture for up close activities such as reading, writing, and computer work. Sit relatively upright and avoid lying on the floor or lounging.
Pay attention to your work space. Keep reading material at Harmon distance: elbow to the first knuckle. Use a sloping work surface. There is less stress when work is tilted 20 degrees from the horizontal (about 4” up & 12” over). Simulate a slope using a four- inch binder or purchase a slant board. We recommend Visual Edge Boards available for purchase at visualedgesb.com or amazon.com. Computer adjustments can also make a difference. Sit at least 25” away, increase font size to reduce stress, and use a matte screen filter to reduce glare. Provide adequate lighting. A task light should be about 3x stronger than the surrounding room light.
Think about your eyes. Soothe tired eyes with warmth by palming. This is a technique done by rubbing your hands together until warm, then gently placing palms over closed eyes, for instant, on-the-go relief to tired, strained eyes. A warm compress also works well for this, using a warm washrag, or purchase an eye warmer to apply to closed eyes. The American Optometric Association also recommends following the 20/20/20 rule: Look up from your screen every 20 minutes, look 20 feet in the distance, and blink purposefully 20 times. The eyes blink less when using screens. Purposefully blinking helps keep the eyes tearing system functioning properly to avoid dry eye syndrome. It is also important to make sure that equal time is spend in up close and distance activities. Computer games are not a way to relax the eyes after distance learning/zoom calls. Working the eyes in close ranges is stressful. To relax, the eyes need to engage in an activity beyond arm’s length. For instance, throw a ball, walk the dog or even look out a window. Remembering to alternate between near and distance activities is a simple way to help avoid eye strain.
As much has too much technology as stimulated eye strain, it also provides several tools that can assist in alleviating the visual load while your child is on their device. The Immersive Reader is readily available for the Microsoft Edge Browser and Office 365 programs, and as an Extension for the Google browser. These learning tools offer the ability to insert text, change the background color, increase font size and highlight parts of speech all while reading aloud.
Improvements is educational accessibility has increased the availability of Audio Books. Whether it’s an audio book from the library through the Libby app, an e-book read aloud, an Audible subscription or any other platform, read-a-louds are a great way to let the eyes relax while still building vocabulary, comprehension and reading fluency.
No one can say how long the increase in screen time will last, but you can get started on reducing eye strain today.