August 22, 2022

Back to school: Ensuring healthy vision for kids

Eye strain or blurry vision can impair a child's ability to learn and can affect their grades.

As children of all ages return to school or college, it's likely they may need to use computers, laptops, and other electronic devices for a prolonged period of time, which can sometimes cause vision problems. It’s important for parents to know what steps to take to protect their kids’ healthy vision.

Vision exams are a valuable step to help safeguard your child's vision during this critical time for learning, said Diana Shiba, MD, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. 

“Since the onset of the pandemic, I have definitely seen an increased number of patients, including teens and young adults, with vision complaints consistent with digital eye strain, or what some call ‘computer vision syndrome,’” she said. "They are complaining of eye soreness, blurred vision, and a gritty and dry sensation in their eyes.”

Many patients are also experiencing headaches, neck pain, and stiffness, according to Dr. Shiba. Research has demonstrated that these symptoms are related to the amount of time spent on electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones. 

Several factors can contribute to these symptoms, according to Dr. Shiba. If a child isn't wearing the right glasses to help focus on the computer or read up close, their vision may be blurry and they can develop eye aches or soreness. Strain on the eyes or blurry vision can impair a child's ability to learn effectively and could cause their grades to suffer.

The importance of ergonomics 

As school or college resumes, many students will spend long periods of time in front of computers. The way you sit, and the distance and position of your computer are very important, Dr. Shiba stressed.

A computer monitor screen should be positioned so that the top of the monitor is at or just below eye level, and the distance from you should ideally be at arm's length, or about 25 inches away. Also, the monitor should not be placed at an angle. You shouldn’t have to tilt or turn your head to view the screen. 

Proper lighting is also crucial. Dr. Shiba explained that dim light make focusing difficult and can cause eye strain. And too much ambient bright light may cause glare, which may also cause eye strain.

The importance of eye exams

According to Dr. Shiba, having the correct prescription and glasses or contact lenses to use if needed should not be underestimated. And that's why having your child's eyes checked can be very important.

"Some parents wonder if they should go out and make a special purchase of glasses with blue-light-blocking lenses, but research studies are split on this,” said Dr. Shiba. "Such glasses may reduce eye fatigue, but a recent study suggested that blue-light-blocking lenses don't improve symptoms of computer vision syndrome.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue-light-blocking glasses because of the lack of scientific evidence that blue light damages the eyes, Dr. Shiba continued. However, it is generally not harmful if a person is already wearing blue-light-blocking lenses. 

Even so, Dr. Shiba said blue light could have a damaging effect on another vital area of health: sleep.