Author: Dr. Nate Bonilla-Warford
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
A visual health guide for students during the COVID-19 pandemic
If your child is e-learning, and experiencing screen-related eye fatigue, they may have an underlying vision problem.
Do lenses with blue light protection prevent digital eye strain?
When it comes to blue light protection nowadays, eyeglass companies can say just about anything to sell their lenses. However, to understand blue light protection, it is important to understand the research on the frequencies of light matter, how much light-filtering is needed, and the effects of blue light.
After following the research for years, I can say:
- There is little reason to believe that the light that is emitted from computers and digital devices will cause permanent eye disease. UV light from the sun is a much greater concern, and that is why we recommend UV-blocking sunglasses for all ages.
- Blue light can interfere with circadian rhythm and sleep cycles. There is strong evidence that blue light exposure especially at night will affect sleep. It is therefore best to turn off your screen a couple of hours before bedtime. But if that is not possible, then blue light protection offered in special eyeglass lenses, as well as night-mode device settings, can help.
- There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that patients have less eye strain and fatigue when they limit the scatter of blue light. The only people who seem to dislike blue light filters are people who need to see colors extremely precisely, such as digital designers.
In short, while I think blue light blocking glasses can help some people feel more comfortable, I do not believe that everyone requires these lenses.
If your child appears to be having screen-related fatigue see your optometrist before purchasing blue light blocking lenses— your child may be experiencing other visual problems that should be addressed first.
Buying a blue light filter is only one part of reducing visual eyestrain.
For many patients, including children, a low prescription to reduce fatigue, with a blue light filter and anti-glare treatment, can be the best combination for reducing computer eye strain.
Does taking breaks help prevent digital eye strain?
If using a digital device is the problem, then taking breaks is part of the solution. Optometrists often refer to ‘proper working distance’ and ‘taking breaks’ as “visual hygiene”— like dental hygiene but for your visual comfort.
Keep in mind, looking away from the computer only to check messages on your phone doesn’t really count as a visual break!
The important thing to remember is that breaking up long sessions on a computer into shorter sessions, helps to release a lot of tension in the eyes.
Here are some suggestions that may be helpful:
- Eye yoga- Before classes start, instruct your child to blink deeply a few times and do some eye stretches.
- 20/20/20 rule – Every 20minutes, instruct your child to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds, this lets the focusing muscles of the eyes relax.
- 1/5 rule – Every hour, remind your child to take at least a 5 minute break to move around (it is best if they can get outdoors). This helps to wake up the e eyes, body, and brain.
Try to set reminders to help your child develop these habits.
What is even better than looking out a window? Actually getting outside and moving around!
Children’s brains (and mood) function better with some good old physical activity. When I am at home with my e-learning kids, I make a point of scheduling a time for all of us to go for a run together, but this is not always possible, especially when it is raining outside.
Even if they can’t exercise, just being outdoors is great for them and the change of scenery will help break up their routine.
Even if it’s just a short walk with the dog, or just standing in the yard or back porch, there are a lot of visual benefits.
First, the eyes get to fully relax when they look very far away. Instead of a space of just 5 or 10 feet inside the room, outside we can see 100 or even 1000 feet away.
Second, natural light contains the full spectrum of light frequencies which is easier on the eyes.
Third, we tend to blink a lot more when we are outside moving around, than when we are just looking at a screen “in the zone” of e-learning. This keeps the eyes moist and comfortable.
Many research studies on this topic that have proven that taking young children outside is one of the best ways to reduce the chances of them becoming myopic (nearsighted).
Of course, if you are outside in the sun, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV light.
When to check with your child’s eye doctor
Extensive computer use can be challenging for all patients, but some children are at greater risk of eye strain from prolonged computer use.
Here are some situations when you should schedule an eye and vision evaluation for your child who is e-learning:
- Pre-existing visual problems – If your child has on-going visual dysfunction, definitely schedule an evaluation to discuss limiting the visual stress of e-learning.
- Symptoms – Any symptoms of fatigue or eye strain should be evaluated.
- Overdue – Many patients are overdue for visits due to offices being closed in the spring. A child’s vision can change rapidly, so we recommend annual eye exams for school-aged children. This is especially important if they are e-learning.
Why does my child have blurry vision when looking at distant objects?
This can happen for several reasons, but there are two important reasons to consider:
- Recently developed myopia, also known as nearsightedness
- Eyestrain that may be causing a focusing spasm
Both of these are on the rise around the world generally due to increased screen time and decreased outdoor time.
Both of these vision problems can be effectively managed with good habits, eyeglasses, and vision therapy. Make sure you discuss this with your child’s eye doctor at their appointment.
As different as it is from classroom education, e-learning can be very effective— and it is certainly beneficial in helping to maintain social distancing and keeping everyone safe from COVID-19.
With the information above you can to help make sure that your child’s e-learning experience is a positive one, without any eye strain or vision problems.