Eight to 10 hours on screen a day. Zooming. Phoning. Playing on the tablet because what else was there to do? There were no after-school activities, sports of playdates.
The pandemic and its upside-down configuration of kids’ school life has taken a mighty toll. Not only on their academics, but also on their eyesight. One of the problems that has resulted from the lockdown and at-home computer schooling is that many more kids are experiencing vision and eye problems.
“We are seeing more near-sightedness than ever before,” said, Dr. Adria Burrows, a pediatric ophthalmologist, and the director of the Pediatric Center NJ Eye & Ear, in Englewood.
“There has been a dramatic uptick in cases of myopia (near-sightedness) in children from the computers and the tablets that emit the blue rays,” she said. “They tend to make people more near-sighted.”
The fact that blue light that is emitted from devices such as a computer screen or tablet penetrates all the way to the retina (the inner lining of the back of the eye) is important, because laboratory studies have shown that too much exposure to blue light can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina.
Although more research is needed to determine how much natural and man-made blue light is “too much blue light” for the retina, many eye care providers are concerned that the added blue light exposure from computer screens, smartphones and other digital devices might increase a person’s risk of macular degeneration later in life and create myopia and eyestrain.
To help prevent damage to the child’s eyes, Dr. Burrows suggests that they wear eyeglasses – either prescription or non-prescription – that have a specific blue light coating to help block out some of the blue rays.
When worn they can “slow down the progression of myopia,” Dr. Burrows said.
But caveat emptor, buyer beware. Cheap is cheap. Something for a few bucks off Amazon is not going to give you the protection that you will get from a quality optical shop.
“I would say you have to spend at least $50 or more to get a quality blue coating,” Dr. Burrows said. “Something off of Amazon for $15 is inferior and won’t do anything.”
Now that the weather is better and kids may be getting off their computers and into the outdoors, eye protection doesn’t end. It just changes.
When outdoors, Dr. Burrows said, it is critical to protect your children’s eyes. The UV rays from the sun are very harmful to the eye and can also lead to macular degeneration and cataracts.
So, she suggests getting kids quality sunglasses and making sure they wear them when outdoors. Sunglass your kids as young as 5 years old.
“I don’t know if you can keep sunglasses on a 3-year-old,” she said, “but when they are 5, they start to think that sunglasses look cool.”
And at what age should a child be checked by an ophthalmologist and not just a routine eye check with their pediatrician, which most parents rely on?
“I think their first eye exam should be done at 4 years old,” Dr. Burrows said. “We’ve seen things like tumors in the eye that could just look like a white spot. We’ve seen children with glaucoma, too. Getting a child’s eyes checked is important to make sure that there is nothing wrong.”
Dr. Burrows uses a hand-held retinoscope to check the eye health of babies, young children, and even special needs children, who may not be able to communicate any problems with their vision.