We all have had to make several adjustments during this new era of COVID-19
restrictions and social distancing. One of the most significant and unique impacts on our children in particular has been the transition to virtual schooling and an increased use of computers and electronic devices. Children in South Florida, across the country and around the world have been attending school virtually for the past two months with no clear end in sight.
This increase in computer, laptop and tablet use, has led Nicklaus Children’s Pediatric Ophthalmologist, Dr. Luxme Hariharan, to notice an increase in her virtual patients complaining of eye irritation and eye strain. Known fondly to her patients as “Dr. Lux”, she notes that several of her child and young adult patients have complaints associated with screen time including eye dryness, burning, stinging, and aching after a long day of virtual learning.
Dr. Lux recommends a simple 5-step strategy: BLINK 20-20-20
to help prevent and treat these vision issues that can be applied to both children and adults. This strategy addresses the underlying causes of ocular surface irritation and eye strain associated with electronic devices including: 1) A decreased blink rate and 2) Prolonged focus on near screens without a break.
The 5 Steps of BLINK 20-20-20
B – BLINKING
- Blinking more frequently! Blinking moisturizes the eyes naturally. A normal blinking rate is 25 to 30 blinks per minute but when using an electronic device for a prolonged time, our blinking rate is reduced to 5 to 7 times per minute. One way to remember to blink is to set a timer every 20 minutes, to look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds, all while blinking and relaxing the shoulders and neck muscles. This will force the eyes to reset, refocus and relax, while also increasing the blink rate.
L – LUBRICATE
- Lubricate your eyes with artificial tears throughout the day to moisturize. You may use over the counter artificial tears and the preservative free type is least likely to irritate your eyes. Artificial tear ointment at night may be helpful as well. If you wear contact lenses, try wearing glasses when using electronic devices to reduce dryness. Also if your house is dry consider using a humidifier.
I – INCHES AWAY
- The computer or desk set up should be at least 25 inches or an arms length away from your child. They should also view the computer at a downward angle of about 15 degrees so that the top eyelids can help prevent tears from evaporating. Parents can also help adjust the contrast, lighting, glare, display and quality of the computer screen so that it is optimal for your children.
N – NEAR DEVICE BREAKS
- When taking breaks from virtual schooling or computers, it is important to take a break not on a television or smart phone, but rather to go outside and play games with toys. Taking a break from screens, in general, is key. Go outside for 20 minutes to expose your eyes to natural light, when possible. Other ways to relax the eyes is to play a non-electronic game with a sibling or spend time with a pet.
K – KNOW YOUR SOURCES
- It is important to follow evidence based guidelines and strategies. Good sources include your child’s pediatrician, pediatric ophthalmologist, The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. All have great resources for information about eye safety. For example, there is currently not enough evidence or data to support blue light glasses and filters to reduce the effects of strain on the eye.
Following the simple strategy BLINK 20-20 20 will help keep your eyes healthy, moisturized and safe during this unique time. We are all in this together and the Pediatric Providers like Dr. Lux at Nicklaus Children’s are here to help. If the above tips do not relieve the visual issues or if the quality of life is affected it is important to visit an eye doctor directly either in person or virtually.
Pediatric Ophthalmologists within the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Nicklaus Children’s are available for appointments at several locations throughout South Florida. The division is comprised of Dr. Roberto Warman, Director of Ophthalmology on the medical staff at Nicklaus Children’s, Dr. Luxme Hariharan, Pediatric Ophthalmologist with Nicklaus Children’s Pediatric Specialists.