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Digital Eye Strain During COVID-19 Quarantine

Social Distancing has been the buzzword for weeks now.  One of the most important ways to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 is to remain at home and minimize physical proximity, but this has led our using digital devices and screen time even more, whether for work or recreation.  This can then lead to more eye strain and other eye complications.  Many of us are sit at home doing indoor work and watch over our children while blue and violet light emitted from high-energy visible (HEV) light spectrum devices can disrupt normal circadian rhythm circles.

It is important to stop using digital devices at least 2 hours before going to bed.  This allows our bodies to secrete the normal levels of melatonin from the pineal gland. Melatonin is an important hormone for our circadian rhythms and is disrupted by HEV light.

Outdoor time and direct contact with sunlight is very important for us to create vitamin D and has been found to be helpful in reducing the progression of myopia.

As we spend more time in doors working on computers and binge watching Netflix, we spend less time outdoors.  Increased time on digital devices and near work with screens can be even more dangerous for children than adults, according to Glen T. Steele, OD, FCOVD, FAAO, from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn.

Adults who feel eye strain will often get up and move around. Children will push on through that.  Steele said. “Now with the pandemic, all kids have for communication is through screens”. In addition to eyestrain in children, parents need to help their children regulate when to take breaks. It’s important for parents to help kids learn to take breaks for the future of their vision.

Steele said recent findings (Lawrence et al.) showed that children had worse self-regulating skills regarding digital screen and media devices regardless of family income or race and ethnicity. Additionally, children as young as 2 years old who spent significant time on digital devices showed developmental delays within a year (Madigan et al.).

“During this time, there are parents who may use devices as a babysitter because they have work they need to get done, too,” he said. “This is a generation that grew up with easy access to digital devices. They’re using them for schoolwork, for social interaction. We really have to watch this carefully. It’s important for optometrists to be at the table for this.”

With this “new norm” for children, the Vision Impact Institute and the Cooper Institute collaborated to provide parents with healthy tips to incorporate into a child’s day, they announced in a press release.

These tips include:

  • Take a break from digital devices or other near work, such as the 20/20/20 rule of looking away from the screen every 20 minutes and focusing on an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Ensure the child maintains an appropriate distance from the screen, using the 1/2/10 rule — mobile phones ideally 1 foot, desktop devices and laptops at 2 feet, and TV screens at roughly 10 feet depending on the size of the screen.
  • Designate a “sleep time” for screens, with most experts recommending between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • Encourage movement, physical activity and time spent outdoors within the bounds of quarantine recommendations.
  • Create a family media plan, including the adults regulating time spent using digital devices.

Recent data has shown a relationship between the number of hours spent doing near work on digital devices and symptoms of eye strain.  That includes less frequent blinking and incomplete blinking.

Working at home likely involves digital devices, and probably to an even greater degree than we do at work, with no breaks to talk to other people.  People often feel that their eyes are dry, even more so if hey usually wear contact lenses.  There may be lower quality equipment at home, worse lighting, worse ergonomics, so, working remotely may just not be as comfortable.