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Protecting your eyes from increased screen time

A child sitting on the stairs in the house and looking at the screens of the tablet PC, smartphone.

Do you feel like you and your kids are spending more time than ever in front of a screen? The pandemic has shifted a lot of the work, learning and interactions we have online, but how does this impact eye health and development? Sunnybrook ophthalmologist Dr. Peter Kertes shares some surprising facts.

How does spending time on screens affect our eyes?

We know that doing prolonged near work, where you are sitting close to a screen, can promote the development of myopia (nearsightedness) in the growing eyes of young children. This is also true of books or other activities that require close-up work.

Prolonged screen use can also lead to tired or dry eyes. This is because when we concentrate on something, we tend to not blink enough. Blinking is important because it spreads tears evenly over our eyes, and it should happen on average 15 times per minute.

What symptoms indicate there may be reason for concern?

There is nothing inherently dangerous about looking at screens, but if you are noticing changes in your vision, reach out to your doctor. Any loss of vision or significant visual symptoms should be investigated.

Generally, for tired or dry eyes, rest and lubricating eye drops can offer some relief. Using a humidifier in the space where you do most of your online work can also be helpful.

Does the type or size of screen matter?

No. Just make sure the font size is at a comfortable setting to read without straining.

Are there recommendations for the amount of time children or adults should be online every day?

In terms of your eye health, there are no formal recommendations. You may have heard of the 20-20-20 rule, which will definitely help give your eyes a rest: every 20 minutes, look at something that is at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. If you are spending significant amounts of time online, you might find that frequent breaks will help give your eyes, and body, a good rest and stretch.

Are certain screen settings better than others?

Some people prefer cutting the glare on their screens by using a filter or choosing settings like night mode, which eliminates blue light. There is no specific setting I recommend to my patients as this is really all about personal preference.

Any other tips?

For everyone, including children as they grow and develop, remember that regular eye exams are important. They are an opportunity to discuss any concerns or changes and to examine the eye for more serious problems.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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