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How to Protect Your Children from Digital Eye Strain

Long gone are the days when children would spend the majority of their free time outside or playing with physical toys in the same older generations (including my own) would. Today, it seems like most kids are far more interesting in their smartphones, tablets, social media, games consoles and on-demand TV platforms like Netflix. While it certainly keeps them happy and entertained, many of us will be familiar with the anxiety of wondering if they're getting enough exercise, sunlight and social interaction. But have you thought about how this continued exposure to digital devices might be affecting their eyes?

According to a recent survey by The Vision Council, more than 80% of Americans now spent two or more hours per day with a digital device, including children. That might seem like a lot of people, but that's only in the two hours or more per day window - research from British psychologists conducted in 2015 found that young adults spend an average of five hours per day on their smartphones (a figure that's twice as high as most young adults would estimate). 

That's a shocking set of statistics, and experts suggest the numbers could be increasing when it comes to children and young adults. What's worse, 65% of Americans say they have experienced symptoms associated with... after prolonged device use, but only 1 in 5 people have actually heard of the condition

So what is digital eye strain, and how can you recognise the symptoms? Digital eye strain is the common name for Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), and is caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to screens. Symptoms of the condition include headaches, eye strain, blurred vision and dry eyes, among others. The Vision Council reports that of those who experience CVS: 

  • 32.6% report eye strain
  • 22.7% report dry eyes
  • 21.4%t report headache
  • 22% report blurred vision
  • 30.8% report neck and/or shoulder pain

The condition is particularly prevalent among younger generations: 

  • 87.7% of those ages 18 to 39 have experienced CVS
  • 82.6% of those ages 40 to 59 have experienced CVS
  • 76.3% of those ages 60 have experienced CVS

So, how can we prevent our children (and ourselves) from developing digital eye strain? Luckily, there are a number of simple and actionable steps that will dramatically limit the likelihood of experiencing CVS. The first is quite obvious - limiting the amount of time we spend with digital devices. The less time you spend looking at a screen, the less likely you are to experience digital eye strain. 

Of course, this is often easier said than done. Whether you work with computers, can't break the social media habit or you're struggling to deal with the tantrums associated with separating your children from their devices, it's not always possible to remove screens from our lives. However, any steps you can take to limit the amount of screen time will have a beneficial effect on your overall eye health. 

Another excellent way of limiting the symptoms of CVS is to ensure you're regularly getting eye tests, and that you wear any prescription glasses or corrective lenses given to you by your optician. If this means hovering over your kids to make sure they are wearing their glasses when using a screen or watching TV, then that's what you need to be doing. You can also get specially treated lenses to combat digital eye strain, something 72% of Americans reported not knowing was an option

There are also a number of simple steps you can take every day to help protect your children's eyes: 

  • Make sure they drink plenty of water
  • Ensure regular breaks, with the advice being to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20 second break, every 20 minutes, in order to look at something 20 feet away
  • Encourage them to eat eye-boosting foods such as fatty fishes, garlic and blueberries
  • Make sure they get plenty of rest, and stop them taking their devices to bed with them

It's not an easy task to get your children to cut down on their screen time, but with a bit of effort and some forethought, you can take steps to protect your children's eyes from the potential harms of digital devices. 

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