The Grapevine

Even Books, Not Only Screens, Can Strain Children's Eyes

The prevalence of myopia, known as nearsightedness, has seen a significant rise all around the world. In the United States, rates have nearly doubled today when compared to the 1970s.

The first and most obvious correlation people would think of is the increasing use of devices including television, computers, and smartphones. But is the blue light radiating from these screen devices the main culprit? There may be more to it as revealed in these latest findings.

The study titled "The Associations between Near Visual Activity and Incident Myopia in Children" was published in the journal Ophthalmology on June 19. The research team used data on nearly 2,000 Taiwanese children aged between 7 to 12 years. They examined the association between near visual activities and incident myopia in the children over a 4-year follow-up period.

The findings suggested that it was not just screen devices that strained their eyes but even the way they performed near visual activities like reading books. When looking at screens, people tend to blink less and may not take enough breaks to look away. Extended reading, writing or other intensive near work can also lead to similar straining of the eyes.

This may explain why the risk of incident myopia was high among those children who attended cram schools i.e. special schools which use intense and strict teaching methods to help students achieve academic excellence.

With regard to eyestrain, children may experience symptoms like dry eyes, itchy eyes, blurry vision, and even headaches. While these symptoms are frequent and persistent, they are usually temporary, the authors stated.

But concerned parents may try to fix the problem by acquiring computer prescription glasses or look into a potential diagnosis of an eye condition that would require reading glasses.

"I prefer to teach kids better habits, instead of supplying them a crutch like reading glasses to enable them to consume even more media," said Dr. K. David Epley, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "If you run too far and your legs start hurting, you stop. Likewise, if you’ve been reading too long or watching videos too long, and your eyes start hurting, you should stop."

Instead, experts emphasize the importance of taking breaks when performing near visual activities, regardless of whether it involves screens on regular books. A 20-second break, at the minimum, is recommended for every 20 minutes of near work.

Parents were advised to ask their children to take breaks from the likes of video games and storybooks to look outside the window. If they are using a handheld device or a computer, it is ideal they maintain a distance of 18 to 24 inches away from the screen.