A world full of personal computers, hand-held video games, smartphones and e-readers is increasing the risk of eye-related problems in many Americans.
This isn't surprising, as children and teenagers are now spending 7.5 hours a day consuming electronic media, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, is an increasingly common medical ailment and can affect learning and work productivity. It is now the number one computer-related complaint in the United States -- ahead of carpal-tunnel syndrome.
"The eyes function best when looking at something about 20 feet away. Looking at something close-up, like a computer game, text message or e-reader requires more focus, and over time, can lead to blurry vision, eye strain and headaches," explains Dr. Leanne Liddicoat, a VSP optometrist in California.
And VSP Vision Care, the largest not-for-profit eyecare benefits providers in the United States, recently reported that nearly one-third of VSP patients suffer from symptoms of computer vision syndrome.
However, there are easy steps parents and children can take to prevent these symptoms:
• Get the right lighting. Keep bright lighting overhead to a minimum. Position your computer screen in a way that reduces reflections and glare from windows or overhead lights.
• Stay back. The closer the eyes are to an object they're looking at, the harder they have to work. A good rule is to apply the Harmon Distance (the distance between the elbow and first knuckle) when viewing anything on screen. If you or your children are holding digital devices closer than a Harmon Distance on a consistent basis, consult your eyecare provider.
• Apply the 20/20/20 rule. To avoid fatigue and digital eye strain symptoms, eye doctors recommend stopping every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Also, remember to blink frequently.
• Monitor usage. Set time limits on the amount of "screen time" you and your children will have each day. For children over 2 years, limit screen time to less than two hours per day when possible. If older children need to use the computer and e-readers for homework, make sure they first give their eyes a rest after school by playing outside or engaging in other non-digital activities. Children under 2 years should have no screen time.
• Get checked. It's important you have the best vision possible when using digital devices. This starts with a comprehensive examination by an eye doctor, who may prescribe corrective lenses or glasses specially designed for digital screens. To find an eyecare specialist near you, or to learn more about combating computer vision syndrome, visit www.vsp.com .
As our reliance on digital devices increases, we must be mindful of our usage and take steps to relax and refresh our eyes to reduce eye strain.