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What Is the Long-Term Impact of Virtual Learning on Children’s Eyes?

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Kids, like adults, now spend more and more time online. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, children attended school via Zoom and completed assignments online. The trend toward more and more screen time — whether playing games or being in touch with friends — will likely  continue even after children return to the physical classroom. 
We already know that prolonged screen time can cause digital eye strain as well as dry eye symptoms, among other problems in children and adults. 

Dry Eyes

When we spend time on computer and other screens, it impacts how quickly our tears evaporate.  The reason for that is that we blink much less often when we are on a computer as compared to other daily activities. When tears evaporate too quickly and aren't replenished with blinking, our eyes start to feel dry and gritty.
Think about your windshield wipers.  You set the wiper speed to the amount of rain.  If it is set too slow, then it is hard to see through the rain.  The point is that you need to have the right blink rate.  If the blink rate is too slow, then it is like wipers that are too slow.  
The second factor is the amount of tears.  That's like the amount of windshield wiper fluid.  If there is not enough fluid, then the windshield isn't going to get clean.  

Blue Light Exposure

Computer screens, phones and tablets emit blue light. Recent studies have shown that overexposure to blue light can damage the retinal cells at the back of your eyes. This may increase the risk of vision issues such as age-related macular degeneration which eventually leads to permanent loss of vision. 

Digital Eye Strain

Over half of the people who use computers or other digital devices feel eye strain.  That is called Computer Vision Syndrome. The symptoms of eye strain include: eye fatigue and discomfort, dry eye, headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, eye twitching, and red eyes. 
Taking frequent breaks from your screen can help reduce eye strain and neck, back and shoulder pain during your workday. 

What is the 20-20-20 rule?

It's a good idea to put the 20-20-20 rule into practice.  For every 20 minutes you are on computer or other digital device, take a 20 second break and look at something that is 20 feet away from you.   
Take at least a 10-minute break every hour; stand up, move around, stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to relieve tension and muscle aches. 

How to Make Virtual Learning Safer For Your Child

To reduce the impact of screens on your child's eyes and visual system:
  • Reduce overall screen time 
  • Encourage frequent breaks
  • Use accessories that filter blue light (for example, blue light glasses)
  • Schedule regular eye exams

Make Sure Your Child had a yearly eye examination. 

Children learn the most through the visual system.  That's why it is critically important to bring your child in for a comprehensive eye examination each year.  It is unusual for a child to have an eye health problem, but eyeglass and eye coordination issues can certainly and directly affect learning and behavior.  
If you are concerned about the effect of virtual learning and screen time on your child's eyes, schedule an eye doctor's appointment at Family Eye Care in Old Bridge. 

Q&A

What are blue light glasses?

Blue light glasses, also known as computer glasses, effectively block the transmission of blue light emitted from devices and computer screens. They are made with a special glare reducing surface to further reduce eye strain.