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How Too Much Screen Time Can Affect Your Child's Eye Health

How Too Much Screen Time Can Affect Your Child's Eye Health

Screens have pervaded many aspects of modern life. They are used for entertainment, education, and communication. Although screens benefit many people’s lives, they can lead to the development of digital eye strain. Research into the effects of screens has revealed how easily too much screen use can cause eye irritation and other related issues and how these symptoms can be prevented. While screens and smart technology don’t have to be completely cut out of a child’s life, there are ways parents can monitor their children’s screen time and usage to prevent digital eye strain symptoms from developing.

3 Common Screen-Related Eye Problems And What To Do About Them

Dry Eyes
People blink less often when they are staring at a screen. Blink rate has been measured to decrease by about 66% when a person is focusing on a screen versus when they are not. Blinks are also less likely to be complete blinks. This limits the amount of lubrication the eye receives and leaves the eyes dried out. Too much computer use puts children at risk of developing dry eye symptoms, as many computers sit above children’s natural eye-line, causing their upper eyelids to be more open than usual. This leads to quicker tear evaporation. Dry eyes can lead to the eyes feeling itchy or irritated, and may create the sensation that there is something in the eye. This is especially harmful to children’s eyes, as children commonly rub their eyes when they feel irritation. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) rubbing the eyes can damage the delicate structure of the eye and cause vision issues, and 2) children who touch their eyes are at a high risk of developing eye infections. 

Eye Fatigue
When the eyes focus for too long, the muscles around the eyes become fatigued. This can cause headaches and concentration difficulties. The eye muscles, eyelid muscles, and forehead muscles can become fatigued from too much screen time as your child squints to focus on the screen. They likely won’t even be aware they are squinting, causing them to develop headaches but continue focusing on the screen, unable to recognize the cause of their pain.

Blurry Vision
When the eyes become focused on the same distance for a long period, particularly near objects such as computers or smart devices, they become used to focusing at that distance and may struggle to change focus back. Normally when we look away from a near object, our eyes will automatically adjust. For example, when you look up from reading a book, your eyes will switch focusing from a near object to a far object. When a child looks up from their screen and their eyes don’t focus on the far objects, this is called an accommodation spasm.

How To Protect Your Child’s Vision
There are several steps you can take to help protect your child from the effects screens have on their vision:

  • Limit Screen Time. Encourage your child to do other, non-technology related activities and set a time limit on how long they can use devices. It is also recommended that children avoid screens before bedtime, as this can affect their sleeping patterns.
  • Take Breaks. Your child will likely become absorbed in whatever they are doing on their device and won’t remember to look up. Make sure you remind your child every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds (you may have to choose something for them to look at if they don’t know how far 20 feet is). This is called the 20-20-20 rule, and it helps the eyes to relax and avoid accommodation spasms.
  • Position Screen Appropriately. Positioning screens just below your child’s natural eye-line will ensure they are not opening their eyes too wide and causing excess tear evaporation. The larger the screen, the farther it should be from the face. The smallest screens, such as smartphones, should be at least 1 foot away from the face. If your child tends to pull the screen closer, make the text or image on the screen larger.
  • Schedule Regular Eye Exams. It is suspected that screen use is related to the increased rates of myopia in Canada and around the world. Check your child’s prescription and eye health by taking them for annual children’s eye exams with a skilled Calgary pediatric optometrist.

Visit A Pediatric Optometrist In NW Calgary

If you suspect your child is suffering from digital eye strain, schedule a children’s eye exam at Market Mall Optometry in Calgary. Our experienced pediatric optometrists can check your child’s eye health, their prescription, and any symptoms they are exhibiting. Scheduling a children’s eye exam will let you know how to treat any symptoms your child is suffering from while ensuring they are a result of digital eye strain and not another underlying condition. A children’s eye exam will also allow you to address screen usage with your Calgary optometrist so that you can discuss the appropriate amount of screen time for your children. To schedule a children’s eye exam, call Market Mall Optometry at 1-403-286-4884 or fill out the online contact form.


Q: How do I know if my child’s eyes feel dry because of digital eye strain versus another condition?
A: If your child is able to stop using screens altogether for a time, you can see if this improves their symptoms. If this is not possible, or if your child is struggling to self-report, book a pediatric eye exam to have their eyes examined. The Calgary optometrist will be able to tell if they have any underlying conditions that could be causing dry eye symptoms.

Q: Are children’s eye exams covered by Alberta Health Care?
A: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan covers all comprehensive annual eye exams for children aged 0-18 and for adults aged 65+. The AHCIP also provides coverage for all emergency visits to the eye doctor.

Q: When should my child first visit an optometrist?
A: The Canadian Association of Optometry recommends that children should have their first comprehensive eye exam performed by an optometrist at the age of 6 months, then at the age of 3, and again at age 5. After this, children should visit the optometrist once a year.

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