Electronic Devices and the Health of Your Children. Risks of Too Much Screen Time.





The world event that is the COVID-19 pandemic will be a fascinating case study for years to come.

An event so large and pervasive, there is virtually no field of research that will not have new material to investigate, understand, and apply learning from.

Here in Ontario, parents, teachers, and children were told back in March that they were to stay home and that a plan for online learning was being developed. In May, they were told that online learning was here to stay during the outbreak.


But what about now?


It's been announced that elementary schools in Ontario will be opening up for in-person delivery of curriculum, but with the interesting development that parents will have the option to keep their kids home in an online learning format:

"This September, all elementary schools in the province will open for conventional in-person delivery of teaching and instruction, five days a week. This applies to all Kindergarten to Grade 8 students. Parents will continue to have the option to opt their children out of in-person delivery, which respects the fundamental role of parents in making the final determination whether they feel safe with their children returning to school."

Secondary schools have received slightly different instructions:

Secondary schools in school boards designated by the province will open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students, on alternating schedules with at least 50% of in-class instructional days. The designation of these school boards is based on several factors that take into account the size of the school board, the number and size of the board's secondary schools, the size of secondary grade cohorts and whether the board is predominantly urban.

It is unknown whether there will be a need to move all classrooms to a virtual space going forward, but it is worth knowing in any case what the implications of online learning would mean for vision health. If classrooms are remote, this puts the learner in front of a computer, tablet, or cellphone for longer periods of time.


What is the link between screen time and vision health?


As Opticians, we serve you on the front line of vision care. We are the team of people that work to provide you with the technology you need to best tackle the vision challenges of the day. These challenges change over time, and the prospect of more at-home learning is as worthwhile topic of study as any other.


So what does the research tell us?


Digital Eye Strain

Also known as Computer Vision Syndrome, Digital Eye Strain is the strain of the eye caused from using digital devices for prolonged periods of time¹. There are behaviours and exposures that occur through the use of digital devices that cause this strain such as lack of blinking, poor contrast between text and backgrounds, staring at a device from an unhealthy range (too close), and reflection or glaring that can cause the eye to work harder in order to see visuals clearly on the screen.


This exposure over time can cause discomfort, dry eye, headaches, and blurred vision.

In a world that becomes more and more digital, the instances of CVS has been increasing at an alarming pace:

Given that the prevalence of symptoms (including eyestrain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye, diplopia and blurred vision) may be as high as 90%, it is likely that an increasing number of patients will present for eye examinations due to symptoms associated with CVS. [2]

Because of the workplace, a lot of this strain is difficult to mitigate because of our over reliance on computers and digital screen work. In many ways, children have been largely shielded from this because of physical textbooks, in-class learning, and scheduled breaks between classes.

However, with a mandated shift or voluntary move to online learning, parents should be mindful that their children may be exposed to these strains earlier.


What can you do for your kids?

  • Regular Eye Exams

  • According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, it is recommended that school age children (6-19 years old) having a yearly eye exam³.

Image from the Canadian Association of Optometrists
  • 20-20-20 Rule

  •  Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

  • Ergonomic Positioning

  • Keep the computer screen approximately one arm's length away. In addition to this, attempt to make the centre of your screen approximately 20 degrees below your eye level to avoid straining the eye too much.

References

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eyestrain/symptoms-causes/syc-20372397

[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834.x

[3] https://opto.ca/health-library/frequency-of-eye-examinations#:~:text=Adults%20aged%2020%20to%2039,every%202%20to%203%20years.&text=Adults%20aged%2040%20to%2064,eye%20examination%20every%202%20years.

[4] https://opto.ca/health-library/the-20-20-20-rule

[5] https://opto.ca/health-library/computer-vision-syndrome-digital-eye-strain