Health

Protecting Our Eyes

How much screen time is enough? It’s a familiar topic for all parents and children’s caregivers today. We are all too familiar with our own use of smartphones, tablets and other digital devices.

Many parents ask themselves, “Is it safe to let my baby or toddler play with my mobile phone?” Children and teens in particular need our support in using digital devices responsibly and the “smart” use of their smartphone. Parents are often surprised when they learn how many hours their children spend online. Yet it’s common knowledge that the widespread and frequent use of digital media is steadily growing. Even our youngest children want to play with mobile phones, fascinated by their moving images. At the same time, many of us are spending less time outdoors, decreasing our exposure to sunlight. 


 

Take a break after every hour of screen use

Increasingly common workplace-related eye and vision problems are often referred to as “computer vision syndrome” (CVS) or “digital eye strain”. Many of us stare at a computer screen for hours on end. This leads to eye fatigue, dry eyes, and blurred vision. And when we finally do go outside, our eyes are prone to unexpected and excessive tearing.

Smaller screens on tablets and smartphones : We use our smartphones throughout the day, during and after hours of work at the computer. Words, images and symbols on portable digital devices are very small in comparison to those on desktop monitors. Customary rapid scrolling, tapping and swiping through these images aggravates existing computer vision syndrome symptoms. The overall time we humans spend looking at screens is getting longer and longer.

Doctors warn against excessive screen time and lack of daylight exposure : Adverse effects have been associated with the extended, daily use of electronic media, particularly at a young age.

Increase in myopia, especially in industrialised countries: Environmental factors and changes in human behaviour have been identified as the cause of increased myopia (short-sightedness), especially in industrialised countries. Many children and teenagers no longer spend their free time outdoors under the sun but in front of PCs, smartphones and tablets, starting early in the day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the growing incidence of myopia to be a global health problem

Whereas myopia was previously considered a mere discomfort, today it is recognized as an eye defect that can lead to impaired vision.

Short-sightedness (also called nearsightedness) typically develops in childhood and adolescence, because the eye only grows in this phase of life. The reasons for myopia, which occurs if the eyeball is too long or if the cornea is too curved, were long a mystery. For many years, scientists could only prove the connection between hereditary predispositions and environmental factors. They also noticed more frequent cases of myopia among people with higher levels of education. This points to the possibility that prolonged focusing on close-up-objects such as books might also lead to short-sightedness.

Lack of light under suspicion

There is still insufficient data to prove that the long-term use of smartphones is harmful to our eyes. However, ophthalmologists assume that there is a correlation between the increasing use of smartphones and computers and the negative impact on our eyes. Exposure to natural daylight is considered to be an important protective factor against short-sightedness. 

What can I do to protect my child’s eyes?

According to a statement issued by the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG) in September 2018, the use of PCs, smartphones or tablets is not at all suitable for children under the age of 3 years. For children aged 4 to 6, a maximum screen time of 30 minutes per day is tolerable. Smartphones and tablets should not be used as “babysitters”. If children use them, then ideally together with their caregivers. Digital devices should not replace the act of reading or viewing picture books together. Preschool-aged children should first have the opportunity to explore real life before turning to screens. And when they do, a minimum distance of 30 cm between the eyes and the smartphone should be maintained during use.

Furthermore, the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG) advises that viewing of digital media should be limited to one hour per day for children of primary school age. Starting at age 10, no more than two hours a day of screen time is recommended. Younger children of pre-school and lower primary-school age tend to use digital devices belonging to their parents or caregivers; older children and teens tend to have their own digital devices. In any case, there should be clear rules as to their use, which could also involve limiting and monitoring screen time with the help of an app. And one to two hours before bedtime, electronic media should not be used at all.

Digital device tips for families:

  • Monitor your and your children’s screen time.
     
  • Children under the age of three should not use electronic media at all.
     
  • Digital devices should be held at least 30 to 40 cm away from the eyes.
     
  • Take a break after every hour of screen use.
     
  • Look into the distance every ten minutes during longer sessions.
     
  • Use larger screens when working with longer documents.
     
  • Keep your eyes moving as much as possible; try not to stare at the computer screen.
     
  • Blink frequently to moisturise the eyes.
     
  • To relax the optic nerve, look into the distance.
     
  • Children and teens in particular should spend more time outdoors in daylight – at least two hours a day if possible.

Sources: 

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