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Virtual learning can cause eye strain on children – here's how to limit it

Virtual learning can cause eye strain on children – here's how to limit it
Posted at 9:12 AM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 09:15:21-04

Just about every school-age child is back in class, and for many in the COVID-19 pandemic, that can mean sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

That can be a problem because hours of virtual learning can put a very real strain on the eyes of kids.

"In the first 20 minutes, your eyes feel fine, but then they start to feel tired," my son Grayson said when I asked him how it feels to look at a computer all day.

He said itchy eyes make it hard to concentrate.

"Because, like, I'm trying to learn but instead I have to focus on how to make my eyes stop burning," he added.

Dr. Kim Le, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Henry Ford Health System said eye strain is a common complaint. She said when we stare at a computer screen, we actually blink less, and that's a problem.

"Every time you blink, you actually lubricate your eyes. And so the kids can start developing symptoms of dry eye," she said.

That can lead to dryness, redness, itching and fatigue. When kids lock their gaze on a computer screen at a fixed distance for too long, their vision may actually be blurry when they finally break away.

"Their eyes might get stuck, kind of focused at this distance so that whenever they look up, things might be a little bit blurry for a while and then their eyes can focus again," she said.

So what can we do? Le said to remember the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. That will give your eyes the break they need.

There's also a lot of buzz about blue light blockers for computers, tablets and phones. Le said research doesn't show they make much of a difference.

"You can't damage their eyes by putting the blue blockers on, but I don't know if it will do much help either," she said.

Even without blocker glasses, there are some simple steps every child can take to relieve eye strain and make online learning easier.

Having your child work from an actual book or worksheet during the school day would also help. It's a change of pace for your child, but also changes the visual depth and prevents them from locking in on their screen.