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Eye doctors warn remote learning, increased screen time could reveal eye problems in children

Posted at 9:08 AM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 21:35:54-04

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio — Many districts across Northeast Ohio are beginning the school year with their student body learning remotely. They're relying on technology and digital devices to connect to one another.

But, eye doctors said with more screen time than usual, this could lead to eye damage.

"Technology has been changing over the past decade and I think it's a lot on the eyes in general," said Dr. Tom Chester, clinical director for the Cleveland Eye Clinic.

Dr. Chester said he's recognized a significant uptick in younger patients who are experiencing issues with dry eyes caused by digital screens.

"I've seen a lot more dry eye patients in the younger patient population, even at young as 8 years old," he said. "Also, with the amount of focusing that the patients are staring at those screens, what's happening is they're their accommodation or their ability to focus is overstressed. The system is stressed."

Leah Eisenberg knows the issue first hand. Her daughter was just diagnosed with dry eye.

"I brought my daughter in. She actually has dry eyes at 10 from staring at a screen," she said. "They're really straining their eyes."

Eisenberg has three children in the Orange City School District. All three are beginning the school year by learning from home. This worries Eisenberg.

"Between their phones, which they want to be on all the time anyway, and now instead of staring at a teacher in a classroom and a blackboard they're staring at a screen and watching," the mom of three said. "They get up after a while and you can see them scrunching their eyes and kind of rubbing."

Dr. Chester said now more than ever annual eye exams are important.

"A lot of times you have the benefit of teachers, the benefit of school nurses looking out for the kids and providing the school screenings. With this year, it's a unique environment because we don't have that opportunity," he said.

He said the tough part about children and eye issues is that many times they don't understand the issue isn't normal and they're less likely to speak up.

But if your child is at home using a screen for school, here are some things you can look for, according to Dr. Chester.

"If they're doing a lot of eye rubbing, if they're doing a lot of squeezing their eyes and especially if they're complaining about things being blurry."

He also reminded parents to suggest the 20/20/20 rule to their children.

"For every twenty minutes of staring at a screen time, look 20 feet away and focus on an object for about 20 seconds," he said. "What that'll do is help to relax that visual accommodation so that they can have a much more usable system."

Blue light filtering glasses and turning devices to a warm light can also help with damage to the retina.

Dr. Chester said the Cleveland Eye Clinic is taking extra precautions to make sure patients are safe during their annual eye exams.