Much has changed from the first introduction of computers when they were used almost exclusively by adults. Now, millions of children use these amazing tools in many capacities – from school to recreation. We are experiencing the first generation of children who know nothing but a world where computers have existed since their birth.
Amazingly, children may experience the same symptoms as adults when it comes to computer usage. These symptoms fall into three areas: Symptoms associated with blur, Symptoms associated with musculo-skeletal strain or ergonomics and Symptoms associated with ocular structural changes. Eye discomfort, fatigue and headaches may accompany these group of symptoms.
Computer use involves the following factors:
Limited self-awareness can contribute towards a child’s immense concentration until exhaustion. The absence of breaks can ‘lock’ the accommodation mechanisms into a particular focal distance. This can lead to distance blur.
Reduced blink rates by up to 69% associated with computer use can significantly contribute towards a dry-eye condition. Studies show children are very unlikely to report these dry eye symptoms with rates as low as 1% reporting.
Children are very adaptable. Although there are many positive aspects to their adaptability, children frequently ignore problems that would be addressed by adults. A child who is viewing a computer screen with a large amount of glare often will not think about changing the computer arrangement or the surroundings to achieve more comfortable viewing. In schools, where there may be more than one child using a computer simultaneously, a child may be forced to view the computer from an oblique angle which can make issues of glare worse. This can result in excessive eye strain. Also, children often accept blurred vision caused by nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or astigmatism because they think everyone sees the way they do. Uncorrected farsightedness can cause eye strain with extended computer use, even when clear vision can be maintained.
Children are not the same size as adults. Most computer workstations, especially at home, are arranged for adult use. Therefore, a child using a computer on a typical office desk often must look up higher than an adult. Because the most efficient viewing angle is slightly downward about 15 degrees, problems using the eyes together can occur. Also, children may have difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor, causing arm, neck or back discomfort.
Steps to Eye-Friendly Computer Use
- Have your child’s eye health and vision checked at Alpine EyeCare Center. A comprehensive eye examination will ensure that the child can see clearly and comfortably and detect any hidden conditions that may contribute to visual strain. Many options are on the table to allow for comfortable computer use.
- Build in a break every 30 minutes to minimize the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation due to conditions like dry eyes. Have your child look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 30 seconds during this break.
- Carefully check the height and position of the computer: Typically the computer monitor will be too high in the child’s field of view. A good solution to many of these problems is an adjustable chair that can be raised for the child’s comfort and a foot stool or similar device may be helpful in supporting the child’s feet.
- Reduce glare and reflections on the computer screen: this may include positioning the monitor to such that windows or other light sources should not be visible when at the computer either directly or by reflection off the monitor screen.
- Adjust the amount of ambient lighting in the room for sustained comfort. Generally, the computer should not be washed out by overhead light.
- Limit long term exposure to bright computer monitors especially close to bedtime. Research has shown cells in our eyes that play a key role in regulating our circadian and sleep patterns. These cells are especially sensitive to the bluish white light display screens on computer monitors, laptops, tablets, smartphones. Being aware of the potential side effects of light exposure at night is key.
Let your child enjoy their world of computers & feel free to bring your child in for their annual exam to our central Boulder, Colorado office. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have!