Computer Vision Syndrome: Is your child damaging her eyes from excessive computer use? By Mark Hutten
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a condition resulting from looking at the computer screen for lengthy, uninterrupted periods of time. And as most parents have discovered, children love to spend countless hours looking at the computer screen.
Some symptoms of CVS include:
• blurred vision
• difficulty refocusing the eyes
• double vision
• dry eyes
• eye strain
• irritated eyes
• neck pain
• redness in the eyes
These symptoms can be further aggravated by improper lighting conditions (e.g., glare or bright overhead lighting, etc.) or air moving past the eyes (e.g., overhead vents, direct air from a fan, etc.).
Parents often consider the computer to be a visually stimulating aid that will improve a youngster’s hand-eye coordination skills and serve as a good learning tool. But parents need to know that their youngster runs the risk of developing CVS if he is allowed unlimited access to computers and video games.
Computer use places too great a visual demand on the focusing muscles of the youngster’s eyes, leading to a greater incidence of myopia (short-sightedness). So, parents should be aware that too prolonged computer use can contribute to an eyesight defect that traditionally has been seen as an inherited condition. Nowadays, most kids sit in front of a computer screen at home AND at school – every day! As a result, the good distance vision they were born with is being compromised. Research is discovering that it is a youngster’s learning and play environment – not heredity – that is creating the rapid increase in myopia for these children.
Some important factors in preventing or reducing the symptoms of CVS have to do with the computer and how it is used. This includes lighting conditions, chair comfort, location of reference materials, position of the monitor, and the use of rest breaks.
Here are some things that parents can do to lessen the impact of computer use on their youngster’s eyesight:
1. Children tend to lose track of time when absorbed in activities on the computer. Many parents are guilty, too, of sitting at the computer for long periods. It is more damaging for your youngster’s eyes, though, to do so. Monitor the time spent sitting in front of the screen, and make sure frequent breaks are taken.
2. Chairs should be comfortably padded and conform to the body. Chair height should be adjusted so your child’s feet rest flat on the floor. If the chair has arms, they should be adjusted to provide arm support while your child is typing. Wrists shouldn’t rest on the keyboard when typing.
3. We’ve looked at the impact of excessive computer use on young eyes, but it isn’t just the eyes which are affected. If the workstation area where your youngster works is not ergonomically sound, then problems with the neck, shoulder and back are likely to occur. These problems can be resolved by making sure that (a) your youngster looks down slightly to view the screen from the optimal distance of eighteen inches or so, (b) the keyboard is easily reached, and (c) your youngster’s feet rest comfortably on the floor.
4. If there is no way to minimize glare from light sources, consider using a screen glare filter. These filters decrease the amount of light reflected from the screen.
5. Avoid the risk of kids straining their eyes by making sure that the ambient lighting in the room is not too bright. As a rule of thumb, it should be about half that of the computer screen. So, pull down the blinds and avoid harsh lighting in the room itself. Glare from the monitor can also be a problem for young eyes, so it is wise to fit an anti-glare screen for your youngster’s comfort. You should also check that there is a strong contrast between the background and the text, as well as making sure that the text size and color do not cause unnecessary eyestrain.
6. Many moms and dads do not realize that eyesight can be tested from a very early age. Every youngster should have an eye examination before starting school, but preferably by the age of three. The eye exam should be thorough, and include testing for near and distance vision.
7. Most computer junkies find it more comfortable to view a computer when the eyes are looking downward. Optimally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
8. Observe your youngster’s behavior closely. Even if they are experiencing problems with their vision, kids are less likely to consider it abnormal. Excessive eye rubbing, eye redness and a reluctance to use the computer as much as usual can all point to eye fatigue.
9. Position the computer screen to avoid glare, particularly from overhead lighting or windows. Use blinds or drapes on windows and replace the light bulbs in desk lamps with bulbs of lower wattage.
10. Reference materials should be located above the keyboard and below the monitor. If this is not possible, a document holder can be used beside the monitor. The goal is to position the documents so you do not need to move your head to look from the document to the screen.
11. Regular eye examinations and proper viewing habits can help to prevent or reduce the development of the symptoms associated with CVS.
12. Take your youngster to see a specialist trained to recognize the symptoms of CVS in kids. A recent study has shown that one in four kids who use computers require corrective glasses to enable them to work comfortably and safely in front of the screen. Under-developed eyes can experience the same sorts of problems as older (40+) eyes when looking from the computer screen to the keyboard and back again. In both cases, the focusing muscles tire more easily. This is because the monitor is viewed at an intermediate distance (i.e., neither near nor far), which is a distance we don’t use very often. Specially-designed computer glasses compensate for this by incorporating a larger intermediate viewing zone within the lens and so alleviating the strain on the eye muscles. Eyestrain and blurring are eliminated.
13. To minimize your child’s chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, remind him to make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist.
14. To prevent eyestrain, have your child rest his eyes when using the computer for long periods. Resting for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use is a good policy. Also, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds to allow the eyes a chance to refocus.
15. Use timers that automatically shut down the computer after the allotted time has passed for your child to be on the computer
Computer vision syndrome can pose both a short and long-term risk to your youngster’s eyesight. If you follow the advice above, you can be sure that you’re protecting her precious asset.
Mark Hutten, is a Counseling Psychologist, Home-Based Family Therapist and Online Parent Coach. He is the owner of MyAsperger’sChild.co which features invaluable articles, support and information for parents of children with High Functioning Autism.