How to protect your kids’ eyes during remote learning

With most school-aged kids doing remote learning, there’s concern about eye strain.

But parents and kids can take some action to prevent discomfort and long term damage.

Games and social media already draw kids to screens, but with school online too, screen time is bound to increase. That can lead to problems, according to Dr. Ken Nischal, the chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UPMC Children’s Hospital.

“If you’re concentrating on the screen, you don’t blink as often as you should. So the eyes become dry. They become irritated,” Dr. Nischal said.

He says that won’t cause long-term damage but it will cause discomfort. To alleviate that, use eye drops, a humidifier or a bowl of water. He also says to follow the 20-20-20 rule — every 20 minutes, look at a 20-foot distance for 20 seconds, which will cause you to blink.

Dr. Nischal says it’s not natural for kids to look at anything close up for long periods of time.

“There is an epidemic of nearsightedness, what we call myopia,” Dr. Nischal explained. “And we know that the more close work you do when you’re between the ages of 6 and 16, the more likely you are to become nearsighted.”

Dr. Nischal recommends a webinar to learn more about nearsightedness. To help prevent nearsightedness, other than reducing screen time, keep the screen at least 25 inches away and reduce the brightness and glare on the screen.

You can also use an app to test your child’s vision. UPMC Children’s created a video that can help you.

Children ages 7 to 16 can also develop a lazy eye from too much close work.

“When they stop doing close work, the eye can still be turned in and then they see double or seem a bit dazed,“ Dr. Nischal said.

You should take your child to a pediatric ophthalmologist if you see this or nearsightedness. Dr. Nischal also says there’s not enough blue light from a screen to cause damage to a child’s eyes.