Eye strain is an issue for many people who spend hours each day staring at digital devices and a new survey commissioned by the Alberta Association of Optometrists shows most parents are unaware of the effects if can have on their children.

School starts for a lot of children in Calgary in a couple of weeks and their screen time skyrockets with the addition of homework.

Staring at a screen for an extended period of time can cause the eye muscles to work too hard for too long and optometrists are seeing more cases of digital eye strain.

Causes of digital eye strain include:

  • When you look at close-up objects like the screen of a tablet or cell phone, your eyes contract and converge and eye muscles work harder, which causes them to become strained and tired over time.
  • Digital devices emit high energy visible light, also known as blue light, which can penetrate deep into the eye.
  • When we look at a screen, we tend to stare and not blink as often. Fewer blinks means fewer opportunities for eyes to be coated with a protective lubricant that helps provide relief.

Parents who participated in the study say that, on average, their elementary school-aged children spend more than four hours a day using digital devices and that doubles for teens.

A quarter of parents surveyed say they are not aware of ways to reduce the impact of digital devices on their children’s eyes and over a third say they don't encourage them to take steps during or after using their devices to reduce eye strain.

More than 70 percent of adults in Alberta say they experience symptoms of digital eye strain but only 28 percent say their children have symptoms during or after using a digital device.

A local optometrist says parents should pay attention for signs of eye strain because children aren't always willing to share their discomfort with their families.

If left unchecked digital eye strain could adversely affect a child’s education and they may steer clear of reading to avoid talking about it.

“A lot of times that can be misdiagnosed as something else but the first thing to do is to make sure that it's not their eyes, that it's not uncomfortable for them and that's why they're not reading," said Dr. Palki Arora, optometrist.

Symptoms of digital eye strain include:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye irritation
  • Double vision
  • Excessive tearing or dry eyes
  • Excessive blinking or squinting
  • Shoulder, back or neck pain

The best way to keep your eyes healthy is to take breaks from the screen every 20 minutes and to look far off into the distance.

In addition, those who work at a computer should position the monitor slightly below eye level and at arm's length.

It’s also important to remember to blink and get your eyes checked regularly.

For more on the impact of digital eye strain, visit the Alberta Association of Optometrists website HERE.