As many Australian parents are once again finding themselves in the unique position of coordinating their child’s online learning from home, it is more important than ever to be aware of the ways you can help avoid or lessen the effects of your child developing digital eye strain.

Specsavers optometrist Greeshma Patel says: “As a parent myself, I know how strong the pull of digital screens is for children for leisure and now with the daily screen time increasing significantly due to online learning, it’s incredibly important that parents are aware of the effects of digital eye strain.”

As well as being aware of the signs and symptoms of digital eye strain, it is also super important you are keeping eye health checks front of mind and are regularly taking your children to get their eyes checked. It is advised that children have their eyes tested every two years.

It’s also very important to listen to your children if they continue to complain of issues with their eyes such as headaches, blurred vision or anything out of the ordinary. It’s recommended to book an appointment with an optometrist straight away rather than wait until their next check-up.

“What many people may find surprising is that when it comes to eye health, the biggest problem with screen time is nothing to do with the actual screens. It’s simply the fact that normally when kids are on phones and computers, it adds a significant demand on close vision. Couple it with being largely indoors without natural light, that’s the part that adds strain to eyes. So other near vision work indoors, like homework and reading can have a similar negative effect on the eye,” says Greeshma.

Greeshma Patel is an Optometry Director at Specsavers Sydney CBD. Her experience in optics spans 23 years. She graduated from Aston University in England and now lives in Sydney with her young family.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Here are a few of the symptoms of digital eye strain to look out for while your child is learning from home:

  • Complaints of tired, sore, burning and/or itchy eyes
  • Watery or overly dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Trouble focusing on words/pictures on screen
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Sitting too close to TV or computer screens

It is super important you are keeping eye health checks front of mind and are regularly taking your children to get their eyes checked.

So, what’s the solution?

The good news is that eye strain does not lead to any permanent damage to your child’s eyes although they are more at risk of an uncomfortable feeling because their eyes are still developing.

“Close up work for extended periods of time can increase the risk of myopia or becoming short-sighted. This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred,” Greeshma says.

She continues, “The biggest message I would like to get across to parents is to make sure during the school week, their children spend time playing outside or stepping away from the screen to do another activity – this also includes not looking at their phone or gaming devices during their breaks.”

The top 5 handy tips Greeshma suggests to parents to help their child experiencing digital eye strain while learning from home are:

  1. Remind your child to blink
    This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out.
  2. Keep a bottle of water next to their computer or learning space
    Your eyes dry out when you’re dehydrated so make sure your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the day!
  3. Follow the “20-20-20” rule
    This meansevery 20 minutes you should remind your child to shift their eyes to look at an object at least 20 metres away, for at least 20 seconds. The easiest way to do this is to take small ‘window’ breaks with your child and ask them to look out at a faraway object to give their eyes a break from their screen.
  4. Screen adjustments
    Adjust the brightness and contrast of your child’s screen to match the level of light around them. Try increasing the contrast on their screen to reduce eye strain.
  5. Consider their position
    Adjust their position at the computer. When using a computer, your child should be sitting no closer than 60cm (about at arm’s length) from the screen. Position the screen so their eyes gaze slightly downward, not straight ahead or up.