What Smartphones Do to Children’s eyes

Jan 11, 2017

Thanks to Jennifer Aniston and her famous “Eye Love” commercial, the world is now aware of dry-eye disease. Today most of us, adults and children, spend too much time in front of screens, causing our eyes to get stressed from excessive exposure to screen time from computers, smartphones, and tablets. If we don’t take a break from continuous screen-time, this stress can lead to further irritation, which stresses our eyes more – creating a vicious cycle of inflammation to our eyes.

For some, this can lead to a disease commonly known as dry-eye syndrome or disease. A study in BMC Ophthalmology found that the symptoms of dry-eye disease were more prevalent in children who spend more time on their smartphones and less time outdoors than other children in the controlled study group.

The study concluded that a leading factor contributing to the increase in pediatric dry-eye disease was a reduced blink rate when children experienced continuous smartphone use, causing faster evaporation of the tear film in their eyes. Researchers also stated that smartphones, due to their small screens and short watching distance, could cause eye fatigue.

It is important to note that during the study the dry-eye disease symptoms significantly improved when the children stopped using their smartphones for a month. Outdoor activity also appeared to be protective against pediatric dry-eye disease, children in the control group spent more time outside—an average of 2.3 hours a day compared to 1.5 hours by the dry-eye group.

Show Your Child’s Eyes Some Eye Love

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “Pediatric dry-eye disease often goes underdiagnosed and can negatively affect vision and school performance”. Below are a few tips to reduce eye fatigue and help prevent the environmental issues that can contribute to pediatric dry-eye disease:

  • Set limits on continuous screen time – consider the 20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of screen time, take at least a 20-second break, looking 20 feet into the distance.
  • Get plenty of sleep – consider putting a curfew on mobile devices with parental controls that block access during set times, like bedtime.
  • Shade your eyes when you are outside, even in the winter months. Sunglasses protect your eyes from wind, debris, and reduces glare from snow that can all lead to eye fatigue.
  • Use a humidifier in your home to increase the moisture in the air.
  • Align the top of the screen at eye level. Position screens between 20 to 28 inches away from your child’s eyes so that your child looks down at the screen.
  • Reduce glare by using low-watt bulbs in lighting fixtures as well as drapes to reduce any glare from windows.
  • Posture matters, choose a supportive chair positioned to allow your child’s feet to be flat on the floor.

What Are the Warning Signs of Dry-Eye Disease?

The symptoms of dry-eye disease can vary from person-to-person, but below is a list of the most common ones that you may experience:

  • Stinging
  • Irritation
  • Grittiness
  • Occasional blurry vision
  • Feeling like you have something in your eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Redness
  • Watery eyes

If you or your child’s eyes regularly feel dry, itchy, gritty or blurry you may want to consider making an appointment with your family’s eye doctor.