Digital Eye Strain & How Can We Avoid it in Pandemic Schooling Part 1

Part 1 in a 2-Part Series

By By Dr. Keshav Bhat, Union Family Eye Associates April 6, 2020

During this pandemic, it is fair to say that pre-COVID-19 family routines may have shifted, or even completely fallen apart! 

As of Friday, March 20, the coronavirus pandemic has caused 45 states to close their schools, according to Education Week. Students from at least 114,000 public and private schools throughout the U.S. aren’t attending classes like usual — and their parents and other caregivers aren’t sure what to do with them.

Many school districts are scrambling to get their courses online so that students can continue their education without interruption.

It’s understandable that children and adults may be using screens (television, devices, tablets, and video games) more than they typically would, or exceeding the time limit guidelines set by the American Pediatric Association. More on this, later!

Today's kids are digital natives; they have never known a time when computers, tablets, and smartphones weren't available for communication, entertainment, and information. Therefore, they use and access a variety of electronic devices for extended hours. This level of usage may result in digital eye strain, caused by excessively bright screens, images that are often small and too close. In addition, many of these devices emit higher levels of high-energy, short-wavelength blue light.

What is Digital Eye Strain?

While new tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs can provide hours of entertainment and discovery, they can also have an adverse effect on our vision. Staring at digital screens can cause hazy, blurred vision and can make eyes burn and feel dry, itchy and irritated. This condition is known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Other symptoms of digital eye strain can include:

  • Problems focusing
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Words moving on the screen (due to underlying eye alignment issues)

Electronics are great tools for education and leisure, but children do not naturally set boundaries for themselves, so adults can help by teaching moderation.

A new study appearing in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers further evidence that at least part of the worldwide increase in nearsightedness has to do with near work activities; not just screens but also traditional books. And, that spending time outdoors—especially in early childhood—can slow the progression of nearsightedness. It remains unclear whether the rise in nearsightedness is due to focusing on phones all the time, or to light interacting with our circadian rhythms to influence eye growth or none of the above.

While scientists look for a definitive answer, there is no doubt that most computer users both adults and children, experience digital eyestrain.  

But this doesn’t mean they need a prescription for computer glasses or that they have developed an eye condition of middle-age that requires reading glasses, as some suggest. It also doesn’t mean that blue light coming from computer screens is damaging their eyes. 

Here are 10 tips to help protect your child’s eyes from computer eyestrain:

  • Set a kitchen timer or a smart device timer to remind them.
  • Alternate reading an e-book with a real book and encourage kids to look up and out the window every two chapters.
  • After completing a level in a video game, look out the window for 20 seconds.
  • Pre-mark books with a paperclip every few chapters to remind your child to look up. On an e-book, use the “bookmark” function for the same effect.
  • Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, as the glare on the screen can create strain.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen so that it feels comfortable to you.
  • Use good posture when using a computer and when reading.
  • Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away, 18 to 24 inches is ideal.
  • Create a distraction that causes your child to look up every now and then.
  • Remind them to blink when watching a screen.


Dr. Keshav Bhat is the owner (and an Optometrist) at Union Family Eye Associates in Matthews. Dr. Bhat is a father of two boys in the Weddington School District. Just like us, he is navigating this new era of pandemic schooling.