American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome Threatens Returning Students

THE American Optometric Association (AOA) warned on Aug. 7 that children heading back to school are at risk for developing Computer Vision Syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue. According to VSP Vision Care, nearly half of U.S. children spend four hours a day or more using computers or other portable electronic devices.

The AOA's 2007 American Eye-Q™ survey, which identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and various related issues, showed that only 16 percent of respondents are "very" or "extremely" worried that their children may damage their eyes by prolonged use of computers/portable electronic devices.

"Computer use is an increasing source of vision problems, and children may experience many of the same symptoms as adults. Too much time in front of a computer screen can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision and headaches," said Dr. Leonard Press, optometrist and AOA's Vision & Learning Specialist. "However, some unique aspects of how children use computers may make them even more susceptible than adults to these problems."

According to the AOA, parents should consider these issues concerning children's use of computers:

  • Children have a limited degree of self-awareness. Prolonged activity without a significant break can cause eye focusing problems and eye irritation. These problems may occur as the eyes' focusing system "locks in" to a particular target and viewing distance. In some cases, this may cause the eyes to be unable to smoothly and easily focus on a particular object, even long after the original work is completed.
  • Children are very adaptable. As a result, children often work in an unhealthy situation -- such as with glare on the computer screen -- and might not even think about changing the computer arrangement or surroundings to achieve more comfortable viewing. This can result in excessive eye strain. Also, children often accept blurred vision caused by nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) or astigmatism because they think everyone sees the way they do.
  • Children are not the same size as adults. Most computer workstations are arranged for adult use. Therefore, a child using a computer on a typical office desk often must look upward at a higher angle than an adult. Since the most efficient viewing angle is slightly downward about 15 degrees, problems using the eyes together can occur.
  • Use of computers with less than optimum lighting. The lighting level for the proper use of a computer is about half as bright as that normally found in a classroom. Increased light levels can contribute to excessive glare and problems associated with adjustments of the eye to different levels of light.

Children have different needs to comfortably use a computer. A small amount of effort can help reinforce appropriate viewing habits and assure comfortable and enjoyable computer use.

"We want the experience for all school-age children to be positive and productive," Press said. "Early detection and treatment provide the very best opportunity to correct vision problems, so your child can learn to see efficiently."

In preparation for a healthy school year, the AOA offers parents these tips for preventing Computer Vision Syndrome in children:

* Have your child's vision checked. Before starting school, every child should have a comprehensive eye exam, including near-point (computer and reading) and distance testing. Parents and teachers should be aware of any behavior that indicates potential problems, such as eye redness, frequent rubbing of the eyes, head turns, complaints of blurriness or eye fatigue, or limited attention to visual tasks.

  • Strictly enforce the amount of time that children may continuously use the computer. Break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to minimize the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation caused by improper blinking.
  • Check the height and arrangement of the computer. Workstations should be arranged to suit a child -- not an adult. A good solution that benefits all is an adjustable chair that can be raised for the child's comfort, since it's more difficult to lower the monitor. The recommended distance between the monitor and the eye for children is 18 to 28 inches. Viewing the computer screen closer than 18 inches can strain the eyes.
  • Check the lighting for glare on the computer screen. Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. When this occurs, the desk or computer may be turned to prevent glare on the screen. Sometimes glare is less obvious; holding a small mirror flat against the screen can be a useful way to look for light sources that are reflecting off of the screen from above or behind. (If a light source can be seen in the mirror, the offending light should be moved or blocked from hitting the screen with a cardboard hood attached to the top of the monitor.)
  • Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A smaller light can be substituted for the bright overhead light or a dimmer switch can be installed to give flexible control of room lighting. In other cases, a three-way bulb can be turned onto its lowest setting.

According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, almost 25 percent of school-age children have vision problems, and only 14 percent of children entering first grade receive an eye exam.

The Eye-Q survey showed that 44 percent of parents don't realize that behavioral problems can be an indication that a child's vision is impaired. Therefore, one of the most important things parents can do to help their children succeed in school is to take them for a comprehensive eye exam.

"Vision doesn't just happen," Press said. "A child's brain learns how to use eyes to see, just like it learns how to use legs to walk or a mouth to form words. The longer a vision problem goes undiagnosed and untreated, the more a child's brain sacrifices to live with the vision problem. Good vision is critical to most classroom tasks, from reading the blackboard or computer screen to concentrating on tests."

For additional information regarding Computer Vision Syndrome, please visit http://www.aoa.org.

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