Digital eyestrain, or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), is defined as “any number of eye or vision-related problems that can occur from computer use.” Symptoms include: blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, and even neck and back pain.
Can children suffer from CVS?
While some believe that CVS is an adult problem, parents and teachers need to be aware that children can also suffer from CVS! Parents should help kids build good habits when using their beloved digital devices. Observe children when they’re using computers or handheld screens and check in with them regularly to find out if they’re experiencing any symptoms as noted above.
What causes these symptoms and are they long-term?
Many effects of digital use on vision are short-term. In general, the eyes function best when looking at something in the distance, like a house or a tree on the horizon. When the eyes look at something close-up, they have to change focus and position, and this takes a small amount of effort. Over time, this effort adds up, leading to blurry vision, eye strain, or headaches. Also, the eyes blink less when looking at screens and tend to dry out, which can result in blurriness, burning, and discomfort.
What can parents do to help protect their kids against the symptoms of CVS?
Watch the time! To avoid fatigue and short-term CVS symptoms, eye doctors recommend consistent breaks. The “20/20/20 Rule” is a good reminder. Every 20 minutes, stop and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Also, set time limits for the maximum amount of “screen time.” It’s recommended that children under two years have no screen time and older children have less than two hours per day. Because children won’t keep track of this, parents must set limits in advance and monitor the time.
Make the computer desk “kid-sized”. Because kids are smaller, they often have to crane their neck and look up at the screen. If possible, have your child use a computer at a small desk with an adjustable chair with good back support.
Be aware of working distance. The closer the eyes are to the object they’re looking at, the harder the eyes have to work. Children who get very close to the screen are more likely to experience CVS symptoms. A good rule is to apply the Harmon Distance (the distance between the elbow and first knuckle) as a guide. Watch to see if a child holds video games or books closer than their Harmon Distance. If so, discuss this with their eye doctor to ensure this doesn’t signal a vision problem.
Schedule regular eye exams. It’s important that a child has the best vision possible when using digital devices. This starts with a comprehensive examination by an eye doctor, not just a school screening. Children should have their first eye exam at six months of age, then at three years of age, before starting kindergarten, and every year after that.
Go outside! Not only does outdoor play feel good, but there’s research that outdoor play helps prevent the development of nearsightedness. Two hours of outdoor play per day may actually help your child’s vision. Remember to use sunglasses and sunscreen!
What is the basic concept behind 3D?
In order to see 3D, whether in the movies, on handheld devices, or on a personal computer, each eye sees a slightly different image. Our brain uses its “binocular vision system” to put together the small discrepancies in the angle and distance of each image, which creates the illusion of 3D. This mimics how we see in real life.
What types of 3D technology are available now? How do they work?
The three types of 3D technology available are passive, active, and Autostereoscopic.
- Passive technology creates a filter using color or polarization of light to separate images, creating the 3D effect. There are different passive technologies that process the projection, including anaglyph, linear polarization, and the most commonly used, circular polarization.
- Active technology refers to the active eyewear that synchronizes with the projection, using a shutter to separate images for the 3D effect.
- Autostereoscopic technology is a new type of 3D technology that doesn’t require special glasses. It works with a filter placed on the screen to direct the angle of the light in two different directions so that each eye will receive two different images. Your brain can then process the 3D depth perception itself.
Can watching 3D entertainment like games, movies, and TV cause any discomfort or long term damage for children or adults?
It’s true that some people experience “vision sickness” symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue when watching 3D. However, optometrists agree that 3D technology will not cause long term damage to the visual system and is safe when used in moderation. Many optometrists believe 3D technology can act as a diagnostic tool for visual problems such as amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (crossed eyes).
What should you do if you’re experiencing these symptoms or are unable to see in 3D?
As much as 30% of the population may feel sick from watching 3D, due to poor visual coordination or stereopsis. These symptoms may also signal more significant visual problems such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (misaligned eyes). If a viewer experiences these symptoms, they should get a comprehensive eye exam to see if there’s an underlying problem. If you experience vision sickness while watching 3D content, simply remove your glasses to give your eyes a break. Also, consider using the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds—to give your eyes a break.
What are the safest ways to enjoy 3D technology?
The single most important message is to consume 3D in moderation. To give your eyes a break, use the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO completed his residency in Pediatric and
Binocular Vision at Illinois College of Optometry. He is in private practice in Tampa,
Florida and can be reached at doc@BrightEyesTampa.com.