AAO: New Research Shows Virtual School Can Increase Digital Eye Strain in Children

AAO: New Research Shows Virtual School Can Increase Digital Eye Strain in Children

November 22, 2021

Ophthalmologists projected an increase in digital eye strain in children when COVID-19 first shut down classrooms and virtual schooling became the new standard.

New research from Wills Eye Hospital ophthalmologists indicates that increased screen use causes higher eye strain in kids, as well as a more concerning eye problem called convergence insufficiency, which can make reading harder.

The research was presented at AAO 2021, the American Academy of Ophthalmology's 125th annual meeting.

Convergence insufficiency is a condition in which your eyes are unable to work together when looking at objects up close. This syndrome causes double or fuzzy vision because one eye turns outward instead of inside with the other eye.

While reading, words may appear to move about on the page. This may lead parents or teachers to believe the children are suffering from learning difficulties rather than an eye condition. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment may include eye exercises, prism eyeglasses, or surgery.  

Eye strain is a term used to describe a set of symptoms that include headaches, poor vision, dry eyes, and eye fatigue. Because people don't blink nearly enough when using electronic gadgets, it's a regular occurrence among computer users.

People blink roughly 15 times per minute on average, however, when using digital gadgets, this rate drops to about 5 to 7 times per minute. Eye strain symptoms are usually relieved by taking frequent breaks from close work and remembering to blink.

To conduct their research, researchers surveyed 110 kids between the ages of 10 and 17 before and after school. School days ranged from three to 10 hours in length. Before the study, none of the kids had any eyesight problems.

According to the survey, the more time students spent online, the more likely they were to suffer from eye strain and convergence insufficiency, with 57% of students reporting symptoms of eye strain and 61% displaying symptoms of convergence insufficiency.

Moreover, 17% of students with convergence insufficiency were classified as serious cases.

“Even healthy kids can develop eye complaints from computers and tablets,” said researcher Judith Lavrich, MD. “This is important because we know digital technology is here to stay, even post-pandemic. Parents should be aware and asking kids if they are experiencing these symptoms. If they are, they should be brought to an eye doctor for further evaluation.”

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Digital Eye Strain

Digital Eye Strain is a term used to describe a group of vision and eye disorders caused by prolonged use of a computer, tablet, e-reader, or mobile phone. When seeing digital screens for long periods of time, many people develop eye irritation and eyesight issues. The length of time spent in front of a digital screen appears to enhance the level of discomfort.

When using a computer or digital screen device, uncorrected vision problems such as farsightedness and astigmatism, and aging changes of the eyes, such as presbyopia, can all contribute to the development of visual symptoms.

Many of the visual symptoms experienced by users are only temporary and will decline after stopping computer work or use of the digital device. However, some individuals may experience continued reduced visual abilities, such as blurred distance vision, even after stopping work at a computer.

If nothing is done to treat the underlying cause of the condition, the symptoms will reoccur and perhaps worsen with continued usage of digital screens.

Controlling lighting and glare on the device screen, establishing proper working distances and posture for screen viewing, and ensuring that even slight vision abnormalities are adequately rectified are all important measures in preventing or reducing the vision problems associated with Digital Eye Strain.