Eye doctor says there are ways for virtual students to avoid eye strain

Reporter: Taylor Smith Writer: Jack Lowenstein

Many students will do some sort of virtual learning this school year and that means more screen time. It’s something doctors have told us for years to avoid, especially with younger kids because it could impact their eyesight. But how can you avoid it when technology is needed for school?

An eye doctor at Florida Lions Eye Clinic in Bonita Springs wants parents to know they don’t need to worry, but be aware.

Dr. Howard Freedman, a retired pediatric ophthalmologist and one of the founders of the clinic in Bonita Springs, said breaks from the screen will save kids’ eyes and protect them from long-term damage. He said staring at a screen slows down a person’s blink rate.

“Most people blink about 12 times a minute,” Freedman said. “But, when we’re really concentrating hard, and, especially using computer screens and digital devices, when you’re on a computer, we blink about five to seven times a minute.”

Some parents worry about the extended screen time for their kids doing virtual learning.

“These poor kids are going to be stuck in front of a computer,” Kim Hale said. “I just don’t see the health benefits of being able to do that.”

Hale has a fourth- and a fifth- grader and she doesn’t think virtual learning is healthy for them.

“To just sit there and sit on the screen all day, it is … it becomes a strain on your eyes. It becomes a strain on your body,” Hale said.

“It’s less healthy,” said parent Jon Absamatov. “I think it’s going to affect their eyes.”

Long-term effects could turn into a problem.

“Nearsightedness actually has grown 90% in the last few years, as we’ve used a lot more devices and screens,” Freedman said. “And there is some correlation, so you want to limit the time and take breaks.”

Freedman said parents can look out for the signs to prevent that from happening.

“If kids have eye strain, their eyes ache, or they itch or get blurry when they’re reading, when they’re doing computer work, that’s worrisome,” Freedman said.

When this happens, follow the 20-20-20 rule.

“Every 20 minutes, look up 20 feet for 20 seconds,” Freedman said. “Take some time from the constant concentration on the computer.”

Also, try not to let kids put their faces too close to their screens.

“For kids, about 18 inches is good,” Freedman said.

Freedman said reminding your children to blink or using eye drops will help lubricate the eyes and prevent them from damage as well.

If your child starts to have headaches and their symptoms don’t go away, that’s when it could be time to get it checked out by a doctor.

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