By UAB Eye Care Pediatric Optometry Services

As schools choose virtual learning and device-based instruction to enhance the education of children, the eyes are an important consideration. Below are facts, impacts, and recommendations for schools, teachers, and parents.  

The eyes don’t blink as often with extended reading and computer use. 
With each blink, a refreshing set of tears is pumped onto the eye’s fragile surface to help moisturize the eyes. Symptoms of dry eyes include redness, discomfort, and watery eyes. 
  • Consider using over-the-counter artificial tears as often as 4 times per day. 
  • Avoid eye drops that “get the red out” for long-term or frequent use.  
  • Try a warm washcloth or a dry-heated mask on the lids to open up glands in the eyelids. 
  • Try lid scrubs or baby shampoo to maximize lid hygiene. 
 
Devices may not create eye problems, but extended use may more readily reveal them. 
Eyes that don’t easily focus, coordinate, or track together may cause eyestrain, headaches, double vision, or intermittent blur. 
  • Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break by looking 20 feet away. 
  • Consider a comprehensive eye exam if your child
    • Covers one eye to read
    • Complains of the symptoms of eyestrain above toward the end of the school day
Studies on screen time and nearsightedness are mixed (Lanca C, 2020). 
While there is no measure of near work that is consistently found to be associated with nearsightedness, the research answer is mixed. Both genetics and environment play a role in nearsightedness. Outdoor play seems to have a protective effect (Grzybowski A, 2020). The risk of nearsightedness associated with device use may be outweighed by the benefit of learning. 
  • Consider prioritizing screen time for academics. If screen time has increased for school, free time should include device-free play, time with family, or physical activity. 
  • Get outdoors at least one hour per day. 
  • Talk with your eye doctor about eye drops or special contact lenses that may help slow down your child’s nearsightedness. 
  • Consider a comprehensive eye exam if your child
    • Squints to see objects far away
    • Has difficulty seeing the board in school or sees better up close than far away
 
Blue light is reflected off of devices and overhead fluorescent lights, but the amount is tiny compared to an overcast day outdoors. 
There is no firm evidence that blue light increases nearsightedness, eyestrain, or light sensitivity compared to normal outdoors. Overhead fluorescent lights in schools, homes, and offices may increase symptoms of light sensitivity. 
  • Consider anti-reflective coating on prescription glasses to reduce glare. 
    • Anti-reflective coating may be anti-blue or full-spectrum anti-glare
  • Non-prescription glasses that block only blue light may or may not have a significant benefit to your eyes. 
  • Wear UVA and UVB blocking sunglasses when outdoors. 

 

In pre-school children, UAB Eye Care Pediatric Optometry supports AAP guidelines that limit the use of devices in preschoolers. www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan. This data was prepared by UAB School of Optometry clinicians and researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in myopia and childhood eye conditions: Katherine K. Weise, OD, MBA, FAAO, Tamara S. Oechslin, OD, PhD, FAAO and Tim Gawne, PhD.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with UAB Pediatric Optometry Services, call 205-975-2020. Or visit online at www.uab.edu/eyecare.