How to Spot Digital Eye Strain in Children and Tips for Prevention

Over the course of the last several years, technology has proven to be beneficial in many facets of life. However, the reliance on digital devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers have created new concerns over eye health. Among adults in the UK, digital eye strain caused by too much time spent looking at a screen impacts nearly 50%. While this number is high, the effects of too much screen time on children are becoming a greater concern.

Part of the issue surrounding digital eye strain and the related computer vision syndrome is the fact that the majority of children in today's technology-infused environment are introduced to a screen of some sort before they are a toddler. Screen time is used as a reward, or taken away as a punishment, and most children find it natural to use a device for both education and play. Unfortunately, the increase in digital device use among children has created more opportunities for digital eye strain. For parents, it is helpful to know the warning signs of the common condition, along with the potential for misdiagnosis, and tips for prevention and treatment.

Recognising the Warning Signs

There are a handful of warning signs that may point to digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome among children and young adults. The most common symptoms include:

• Dry or irritated eyes
• Headaches
• Neck or shoulder pain
• Irritability
• Bad behavior at home or school
• Reduced attention span

Although both children and adults can develop digital eye strain, children are more likely to have eye issues and discomfort. This is because their eyes are still developing, and excess strain due to too much screen time may have both short- and long-term negative effects on eyesight. Also, children may not be prone to using digital devices in a way that is the best-suited for them. Holding a screen too close to their eyes is one issue, while having a screen that is too bright is another. Whenever the symptoms of digital eye strain become noticeable, parents should schedule an eye exam promptly.

An Often Misdiagnosed Condition

Digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome may not seem like a severe health condition for adults or children, but there is one often overlooked risk of missing the warning signs of either condition. A group of medical negligence specialists explains that misdiagnosis can have long-lasting, life-changing effects on children. Because of the inability to focus, reduced attention span, and declining behavior, digital eye strain may initially be diagnosed as ADHD. While the two have symptoms in common, eye strain in children does not require medication or ongoing treatment but instead a reduction in screen time. ADHD, on the other hand, often means prescription medications that can alter the child's mood and attention span over time.

When eye strain is misdiagnosed as ADHD, children may be put on medication that serves no purpose for them. The underlying cause remains an issue, and in many cases, the symptoms do not fade over time. Children can have negative side effects to the medication prescribed for ADHD, especially when that is not an accurate diagnosis to begin with. For these reasons, it is crucial to ask the doctor about the potential for eye strain as the culprit of the symptoms mentioned above.

Easy Steps for Prevention

For parents with young children or teens, preventing digital eye strain starts with limiting the amount of screen time each day. While this may not be an easy task, reducing screen time can help alleviate the symptoms of eye strain quickly. Consider scheduling breaks after 20 minutes of device use, and encourage children to get outdoors for natural light. Also, it is necessary to keep children on a routine when it comes to eye exams and check-up. Whether any warning signs creep up or not, sticking with regularly scheduled visits with an eye doctor is important.

Additionally, parents can take small steps to ensure over-use of digital devices is a non-issue. Limiting the amount of screen time before bed is shown to be beneficial for eye health and overall sleep healthy. Similarly, leading by example is beneficial in helping children maintain healthy eye function. Plan to put the phone or tablet or laptop away for a set period each day and make this a scheduled time to spend without digital interference with children. These simple changes can make a significant difference in steering clear of digital eye strain for adults and children alike.

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