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Digital Devices, Dry Eye, and Children

Many of us use computers as a part of our daily lives for work, school, social media, entertainment, and more. As digital devices continue to become nearly ubiquitous, they are being introduced to children at younger and younger ages. While computers have undeniable benefits, they could be inducing dry eye in young adults and even children.
The National Eye Institute defines dry eye as a “multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface that results in symptoms of discomfort, visual disturbance, and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface.” Dry eye disease has always been most common in women who usually begin to show signs of the condition during middle age. There has been a recent spike in the amount of patients presenting with signs of dry eye at a much younger age, even appearing in children. It’s very likely that there is a correlation between the number of new dry eye cases and the increased use of digital devices.
One reason the use of digital devices can lead to dry eye is due to a decrease in blink rate. Blinking spreads tears across the surface of the eye, keeping our eyes moist and comfortable. On average, we blink about once every 4 seconds. Studies show that when using a digital device, our blink rate decreases by about 40%. It has also been shown that children who tend to spend the majority of their time indoors reading and using most of their vision for near activities are more likely to become nearsighted. Meanwhile, children who spend an average of 2 hours outside each day help reduce their chances of becoming nearsighted.
So what can be done to help prevent dry eye in our children and ourselves?
1. Reduce or limit the amount of time children spend using digital devices. Make sure children spend time outdoors using their peripheral vision to help engage more parts of the eye.
2. Use the 20/20/20 rule. This rule is simple: every 20 minutes look away at least 20 feet away from the screen for at least 20 seconds. This gives the eyes a break, as our eyes are more relaxed when looking far away.
3. Practice good blinking habits. Every twenty minutes, close your eyes and squeeze lightly for a few seconds. This helps to release moisture from the glands in our eyelids that lubricate our eyes.
4. Use artificial tears. Lubricating eye drops can be purchased at most drug stores. They can be inserted before and during computer use up to 4 times a day to provide additional lubrication when the eyes begin to feel dry.
5. See your eye doctor for an exam to check for any signs of dry eye and for additional recommendations to treat dryness when necessary.