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All About Vision

Children and Computer Vision Syndrome

The use of computers, tablets and other digital devices has become so commonplace in the daily lives of children that a report by The Vision Council in 2015 showed that close to 25% of children spend more than 3 hours a day using some sort of digital device. These numbers are only expected to grow. As these devices are becoming integrated into schools and becoming more common for use at a younger age, many experts and parents are wondering how the use of these devices can affect children’s eyes in the short and long term.

Computer Vision Syndrome (aka Digital Eye Strain)

Just like adults, children are susceptible to computer vision syndrome (CVS), also called digital eye strain, after extended use of computers or digital devices. Symptoms of CVS include eye fatigue and eye strain, dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.

Staring at a computer screen is a stress for the eyes, particularly for children whose eyes and visual system are less developed. This is because the computer-generated, pixelated images which appear on the screen are not what our eyes are accustomed to and therefore can cause the eye to strain after extended viewing.  Some children find it uncomfortable to view screens for long periods because they simply don’t have the focusing power to spend extended amounts of time looking at these pixelated images.

Children don’t always have the self control to limit computer use or the awareness to know when they are experiencing eye fatigue or other symptoms of CVS. Because of this, they are more likely to overuse digital devices which can make symptoms worse.

Screen Use and Myopia

Myopia or nearsightedness is a growing concern as studies show the incidences of the condition are growing exponentially.  In the past it was thought that myopia was primarily genetic, however recent research indicates a correlation between environmental factors and the growing exposure to and use of digital devices, particularly in children.  As children increase their computer use and time spent on screen, the likelihood of developing myopia seems to also be increasing. According to a study done at the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry which researched the incidence of myopia in 253 children between 6 years old and 10 years old showed a link with the amount of time spent on a computer.

The Effects of Blue Light

Blue light or high-energy visible (HEV) light is emitted from digital devices and is causing greater and greater concerns about long term exposure.  It is already known that blue light can affect sleep and concentration but studies are also indicating that it can cause long term retinal damage, particularly in kids whose young eye have more sensitivity to environmental influences.

How to Protect Your Children from CVS

With the increasing use of and dependence upon digital devices it is important to teach your children good habits to protect their eyes while they are young. Understanding the risks and dangers of prolonged screen time should be taught at an early age.  Here are some tips for safe computer and digital device use to reduce digital eye strain and prevent the negative effects it can have on your children’s eyes and vision.

  1. Limit Screen Time:  When possible limit screen time to one or two hours a day, particularly for little children who don’t require computers for school work.
  2. Optimize Your Children’s Work Station: Ensure that children are positioned properly and that lighting is appropriate so that they do not have to bend or stretch in unnatural ways to see the screen adequately. The monitor should be slightly below the child’s eye line and about 18 - 28 inches away.  The chair should also be adjusted so that the child’s arms comfortably rest on the desk and his or her feet touch the floor (when possible).
  3. Have Regular Eye Exams: Monitor your child’s eyesight, particularly an assessment of their near vision skills.
  4. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something at least 20 feet away.
  5. Get in the Habit of Stretching: At regular intervals stretch the back, arms, shoulders and neck to relieve tension and reduce strain or soreness.
  6. Consider Computer Glasses: Computer glasses are made to help the eyes focus more easily on the computer screen.  If your child already wears prescription eyewear, prescription computer glasses are available as well.
  7. Blue coating: Blue coatings on eyeglasses can protect the eyes from the harmful High Energy Blue Lights from digital devices such as computer, tablet and smartphone and reduce glare and eye strain.
  8. Look for signs of eye or vision problems such as blurred vision or eye rubbing, redness or a stiff neck.  If you notice any lasting vision problems see your eye doctor for an examination.

Worker Productivity and Computer Vision Syndrome

Since 43% of adults work at jobs that require prolonged use of a computer, tablet or other digital devices, computer vision syndrome (CVS) and blue light exposure are becoming increasingly serious threats to our vision, health and productivity.

Computer Vision Syndrome in the Workplace

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain, is an increasingly common condition felt by those that spend two or more hours daily in front of a screen. Symptoms can include blurred vision, eye strain and fatigue, headaches, dry, red, irritated eyes, neck and back pain and headaches. Typically the symptoms of CVS are not permanent, however they can have an impact on comfort, productivity and one’s ability to focus. In rare cases, CVS can even be debilitating.

Studies show that symptoms of computer vision syndrome have become the most common workplace complaint or injury among workers with 50-90% of computer users reporting symptoms to some degree. These symptoms have been shown to have an impact on worker productivity.

The Effects of CVS on Productivity

In a study which looked at the correlation between computer vision and workplace productivity performed at the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham correlations were found between proper vision correction and overall productivity as well as the time it takes for a worker to complete a task. Even minor and unnoticeable vision problems were shown to affect productivity by up to 20% and to cause an increase in mistakes.

Blue Light Exposure

Blue light or high-energy visible (HEV) radiation exposure is another effect of extended digital device use. Excessive blue light exposure has been linked to sleep cycle disturbance – which can have an overall negative impact on alertness and one’s ability to focus. Blue light may also cause long term damage to the retina. While studies are currently being done to determine the effects of blue light, it is clear that protecting your eyes from blue light is recommended for eye health.

Workspace Ergonomics and Computer Eyewear

From both the worker’s and the employer’s perspectives, an investment in a combination of workspace ergonomics and computer eyewear can benefit the workplace and overall productivity. Workers will be more productive and experience fewer visual and musculoskeletal symptoms that can cause discomfort and distraction. Employers will benefit from productivity gains and reduced worker’s compensation claims.

Dry Eye After Menopause

Dry Eye Disease is a common eye condition – studies show that nearly 20% of North Americans middle aged and older suffer from dry eye disease. The probability of you developing dry eye if you are a woman, and older than 50, increases. Hormonal changes that older women undergo make it much more likely that they will suffer from dry eye as they age, including symptoms such as blurry vision and irritation of the eyes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What are the biological changes that happen during menopause which affect your eyes? The tear film in the eyes relies on certain chemical signals to remain stable, and these signals get disrupted during and after menopause. Some doctors believe that androgen, a hormone implicated in menopause, may be the culprit causing dry eye problems for menopausal women. Eyes may become inflamed, which leads to decreased tear production, and possibly dry eye disease. Add in a dry environment and many medications and the risk factors for menopausal women increases exponentially.

Treatments for Dry Eye in Menopausal Women

Estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is sometimes used to treat menopausal symptoms, as the female hormone estrogen is one of the hormones that decreases during and after menopause. However, studies have shown that this treatment does not relieve symptoms of dry eye.

Refractive Eye Surgery

Refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK and PRK, may not be advised if you are 40 or older, and have dry eye disease. These procedures can affect nerve function in your cornea (the clear surface of your eye), which could worsen your dry eye problem. If you want to have a consultation regarding LASIK or PRK, it’s important that your eye doctor know about your dry eye condition. In that case, your eye doctor will know to do the appropriate tests to make sure that there is enough moisture in your eyes for laser vision correction.

There are other health conditions that are associated with dry eye and aging. These conditions include thyroid autoimmune disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you suffer from dry eye, make sure your doctor screens you for these diseases.

Allergies may cause eye inflammation, and may be the cause of your dry eye. Prescription and over-the-counter eye drops might relieve your dry eye and allergy problem. Our eye doctor in North York, Ontario will advise you as to which eye drops would be best for you.

Sometimes commonly prescribed medications can worsen, or even cause, dry eyes. Some of these medications are antidepressants and diuretics, which are often prescribed if you have a heart condition. Make sure to talk about this with Dr. Heshmati if you suspect that one of the medications you are taking may be causing your dry eye problems. Perhaps changing your medication will be as effective, and won’t cause dry eye disease.

Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease (DES or dry eye) is a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Its consequences range from minor irritation to the inability to wear contact lenses and an increased risk of corneal inflammation and eye infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye

Persistent dryness, scratchiness and a burning sensation on your eyes are common symptoms of dry eye disease. These symptoms alone may be enough for your eye doctor to diagnose dry eye disease. Sometimes, he or she may want to measure the amount of tears in your eyes. A thin strip of filter paper placed at the edge of the eye, called a Schirmer test, is one way of measuring this.

Some people with dry eyes also experience a “foreign body sensation” – the feeling that something is in the eye. And it may seem odd, but sometimes dry eye disease can cause watery eyes, because the excessive dryness works to overstimulate production of the watery component of your eye’s tears.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

In dry eye disease, the tear glands that moisturize the eye don’t produce enough tears, or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly.

Dry eye disease has several causes. It occurs:

  • As a part of the natural aging process, especially among women over age 40.
  • As a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills.
  • Because you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate with low humidity.

If your home or office has air conditioning or a dry heating system, that too can dry out your eyes. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day.

Dry eyes are also associated with certain systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea or Sjogren’s Syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth, and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus).

Long-term contact lens wear, incomplete closure of the eyelids, eyelid disease and a deficiency of the tear-producing glands are other causes.

Dry eye disease is more common in women, possibly due to hormone fluctuations. Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eye disease. Dry eye has also been associated with incomplete lid closure following blepharoplasty – a popular cosmetic surgery to eliminate droopy eyelids.

Treatment for Dry Eye At Our Eye Care Centre in North York, Ontario

Dry eye disease is an ongoing condition that treatments may be unable to cure. But the symptoms of dry eye – including dryness, scratchiness and burning – can usually be successfully managed.

Your eye care practitioner may recommend artificial tears, which are lubricating eye drops that may alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Prescription eye drops for dry eye go one step further: they help increase your tear production. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a steroid for more immediate short-term relief.

Another option for dry eye treatment involves a tiny insert filled with a lubricating ingredient. The insert is placed just inside the lower eyelid, where it continuously releases lubrication throughout the day.

If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear. You may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Wait 15 minutes or longer (check the label) before reinserting them. For mild dry eye, contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary. Switching to another lens brand could also help.

Check the label, but better yet, check with your doctor before buying any over-the-counter eye drops. Your eye doctor will know which formulas are effective and long-lasting and which are not, as well as which eye drops will work with your contact lenses.

To reduce the effects of sun, wind and dust on dry eyes, wear sunglasses when outdoors. Wraparound styles offer the best protection.

Indoors, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other particles from the air, while a humidifier adds moisture to air that’s too dry because of air conditioning or heating.

For more significant cases of dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend punctal plugs. These tiny devices are inserted in ducts in your lids to slow the drainage of tears away from your eyes, thereby keeping your eyes more moist.

If your dry eye is caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), your doctor may recommend warm compresses and suggest an in-office procedure to clear the blocked glands and restore normal function.

Doctors sometimes also recommend special nutritional supplements containing certain essential fatty acids to decrease dry eye symptoms. Drinking more water may also offer some relief.

If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication alleviates the dry eye symptoms while keeping the needed treatment. In any case, never switch or discontinue your medications without consulting with your doctor first.

Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops, plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.

If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until your dry eye condition is successfully treated. Dry eyes increase your risk for poor healing after LASIK, so most surgeons will want to treat the dry eyes first, to ensure a good LASIK outcome. This goes for other types of vision correction surgery, as well.

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