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How Online Learning Is Impacting Children’s Vision

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Does your patient education address these new risks?

As we enter yet another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wide-ranging health impacts continue to be seen. This includes children’s eye health. Online learning and a significant increase in digital device use have contributed to a number of eye and vision issues. Once seen primarily in young adults, myopia is on the rise in even younger people. Dry eye disease and digital eye strain (DES)—also known as computer vision syndrome—are increasing in this age group as well. 

Has your patient education kept up with the changes caused by COVID? It may be time to revisit your messaging, particularly with your younger patients. Here’s how.

Raising awareness of new threats to children’s eye health

A study published last year in the ​​Indian Journal of Ophthalmology found an increased prevalence of digital eye strain in children attending online classes for more than two hours per day, compared to the pre-COVID era. Among this group of children, more than 50% reported experiencing DES. The most common symptoms were itchy eyes and headache. 

In one study, more than 50% of children attending online classes for more than two hours a day reported symptoms of digital eye strain.

As the Omicron variant spreads and many schools return to virtual instruction, students will once again be faced with an unavoidable increase in screen time. As the study authors stated, “Spending long hours in front of these devices can lead to many ocular problems in children. Digital eye strain is the most common eye problem associated with prolonged digital device use, characterized by symptoms such as dry eyes, itching, foreign body sensation, watering, blurring of vision and headaches.”

Online learning may also be contributing to the “alarming rate” of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children, wrote Dr. Paul Karpecki, O.D., in a recent post. Eye doctors need to be communicating the long-term risks of high myopia to the parents of their young patients and discussing treatment options. “Parents concerned about their children’s risks of myopia are seeking information and solutions to this vision-threatening condition,” Dr. Karpecki said. 

Eye health tips to share with parents and patients

In addition to increasing awareness of risks to young people’s eye health, it’s a good idea to offer tips and strategies for better screen habits. For example: 

Consider your lighting. Eye strain can be caused by such factors as poor lighting and screen glare. Advise patients to eliminate too-bright exterior light by closing drapes, shades or blinds and, if possible, to position their computer screen so windows are to the side, instead of in front or behind it.

Many computer users find their eyes feel better if they can avoid working under overhead fluorescent lights. If possible, turn off the overhead lights in your office and use floor lamps that provide indirect “soft white” LED lighting instead, advises AllAboutVision.com. This will also help minimize glare, which contributes to eye strain. You may also suggest that your patients who wear glasses purchase lenses with anti-reflective coating.

Let patients know that adjusting their computer setup and lighting, along with some simple exercises, can alleviate eye strain.

Remember the 20-20-20 rule. Simple eye exercises can help with eye strain and focus fatigue. For example: Every 20 minutes, look at an object roughly 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. You can also give your eyes a break by closing them and rolling your eyes up, down and around in one direction and then the other. Or try a “facepalm.” Rub your hands together, then gently cup your palms over your closed eyelids for a few minutes. Lastly, don’t forget to blink! We tend to blink less often while using a computer, which can cause eye dryness and irritation. 

An easy way to share these tips with your patients is with our Rendia video: Healthy Daily Habits for Computer Users.

Get outside. Especially during the short days of winter, some exposure to sunlight can have positive health effects, as long as you protect your eyes and skin from UV damage. Let patients know that spending time outdoors can help prevent myopia in kids. 

An opportunity to make a difference 

Especially now, encourage regular eye exams and ensure that digital device usage is being taken into account during annual check ups. Patients may not realize the effect of computer use on the eyes, as well as how simple it may be to reduce and prevent symptoms.

Eye care professionals have a great opportunity to educate parents and make a difference in young patients’ lives by reducing eye health risks and potentially preventing blindness. 

For more information, check out Rendia’s recent webinar featuring Dr. Karpecki: New Approaches to Myopia Management.

 

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