Ophthalmologists anticipate rise in eye strain as students start online learning

HOUSTON, Texas -- As millions of children begin the school year with virtual learning, ophthalmologists anticipate a rise in eye strain complaints.

Ophthalmologists say long periods of time spent in front of laptops or tablets can lead to tired, dry eyes, headaches, and blurry vision. Experts say a 20-second break from screen-time every 20 minutes can help reduce the risk of digital eye strain.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends the following tips to keep up with breaks:

  • Set a timer. Whether a kitchen timer or a smart device, use it to remind your child to take a break every 20 minutes.
  • Alternate reading an e-book with a real book. Encourage children to look up and out the window every two chapters or simply shut their eyes for 20 seconds.
  • Pre-mark books with paperclips every few chapters. When they reach a paper clip, it will remind them look up. On an e-book, use the "bookmark" function for the same effect.

AAO says ergonomics and optimizing your child's workspace is just as important as resting the eyes. Here are the organization's recommendations for adopting better posture and habits:

  • Make sure they view laptops at arm's length, about 18 to 24 inches from where they are sitting. Ideally, they should have a monitor positioned at eye level, directly in front of the body. Tablets should also be held at arm's length.
  • To reduce glare, position the light source behind the back, not behind the computer screen.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast on the screen so that it feels comfortable for them.
  • Don't use a device outside or in brightly lit areas; the glare on the screen can cause eye strain.
  • Avoid using a device in a dark room. As the pupil expands to accommodate the darkness, the brightness of the screen can aggravate after-images and cause discomfort.
  • Put down the device 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Blue light may disrupt sleep. For your procrastinating teens, switch to "night mode" or a similar mode to reduce blue light exposure.

AAO says following this advice and making sure your child spends enough time outdoors could slow the progression of nearsightedness.

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