By: Elizabeth at Makar Eyecare
Little Tommy came into my office and sat down in the exam chair. His mother complained that he was always rubbing his eyes. I sighed. I had seen this twice already earlier that day with two other young patients.
In our Anchorage office, eye doctors have seen an alarming trend where children as young as 5 and 6 years old are showing signs of eye and vision problems that in the past we didn’t even screen for until adulthood. And all of it is directly related to excessive use of digital media devices.
Ever notice that your child seems to stare, unblinking, at their screens all day?
Staring at handheld devices up close decreases the number of times the eye blinks per minute. And when they do blink while staring at a screen, their eyelids don’t fully close. Blinking lubricates and protects the eye. Bad blinking behavior can cause dry, irritated eyes that may impair your child’s vision and interfere with school. Untreated over the long term, it can damage the cornea and the membranes that cover the eye and line the eyelids.
Staring at the same place for long periods of time creates strain on young, developing eyes that can lead to poor vision early in life. Like adults who for years have stared at a computer screen for work, children are suffering from red, irritated eyes, blurred or double vision, headaches and eye fatigue, all because of prolonged screen time. Untreated, these conditions can cause long-term damage to your child’s vision and even overall health.
With Tommy, because we caught it early enough, I was able to prescribe a relatively simple and inexpensive regimen of eye drops and a healthy time limit with the iPad. Simple. Other kids aren’t so lucky and need corrective eye glasses or kid-safe contacts because it isn’t caught early enough.
What can you do?
As a parent, limiting screen time and encouraging frequent breaks are a good first step on the road to improving your child’s vision and eye health. But the best protection is regular eye exams from an optometrist who understands the challenges of being a parent in the digital age.
Annual exams beginning at age 5 allow us to identify signs of dry eye disease or other issues that can affect your child’s vision early, before they cause long-term damage. Glasses or contacts can certainly correct vision deficiencies, but we may also prescribe vision therapy to re-train the eyes how to fully blink, artificial tears to keep the eyes moist, or other measures that can help alleviate eye issues caused by excessive screen time.
If you bring your child in for an assessment, we will gladly provide a free bottle of kid-friendly eye drops. Most insurances cover your first visit.
What our patients say: “I took my almost 4 year old twins for their eye check up. I really appreciate how every person went over and above to make the experience a positive one for them.” [Sara R, Facebook review]