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Computer Vision Syndrome: Kids, Computers and Digital Eye Damage

It’s that time of year again! The seasons are changing and kids are heading back to school, often trading time at the playground or pool for hours in front of a computer screen. But are their eyes equipped to handle the change?

This year, nearly 60 million school-age children will use a computer or digital device for hours a day, and that doesn’t include time spent in front of a TV or gaming system at home. This increased exposure puts them at greater risk for Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS—a serious condition that can cause back and neck pain, dry eye, and even headaches.

“All-around school performance starts with the eyes,” says Dr. Justin Bazan, VSP doctor at Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, NY. “Academics, sports, you name it—everything depends on the quality of our eyesight.” In fact, statistics show that 80% of what we learn is through our eyes, which means that CVS can have a major impact on students’ productivity and classroom performance.

“If your child is avoiding the computer or can only spend a short time working comfortably, it may be a sign of CVS,” says Dr. Bazan. “Everyone focuses differently, and some kids don’t have the focusing power for spending long periods of time in front of pixilated images.” This lack of focusing power may stem from an inappropriate or improper prescription.

So what steps can you take to help prevent CVS and other visual-related problems? Be sure your kids visit an eye doctor every year. As many as one in four students have visual impairment problems, and 20% of middle and high school students (ages 12-17) have difficulty seeing the chalkboard in school. “The right prescription is key. That’s why it’s a great idea to make annual eye exams part of the back-to-school routine.”

Based on the manner and frequency of computer use, eyewear can be designed to help focus the eyes and reduce strain while using the computer. Vision therapy is another treatment that can help an individual build their focusing power and boost those deficiencies that often cause CVS.

Other practical steps—such as monitor placement and timed breaks—can help prevent CVS before it starts. “I recommend five-minute breaks on the hour to go get a glass of water,” explains Dr. Bazan. “Not only will you stay hydrated—dry eyes can be a component—you’ll also give your eyes a break.”

Want more easy tips to prevent CVS? Read on.

Daily dose it
Just as with TV, computer use should be timed according to age (see the chart below for guidelines). Remember the old adage, all things in moderation, and apply it here too.

De-glare it
Keep the monitor clean and use a glare-reducing monitor filter.

Break it
Every hour, have your child take a 10-minute break from the computer (the same goes for you).

Face it
The computer screen should be 20-24 inches from your child’s face (ditto for mom and dad). And, his or her feet need to touch the floor. There should be a slight downward angle from face to screen.

Wear it
If your child wears prescription glasses—for computer use or otherwise—make sure he or she has them on.

Suggested Time Limit
Under 10 30 minutes a day
10–13 1 hour a day
14–15 2 hours a day
16–18 Parents’ best judgment