AOA campaign offers tips to help students make the most out of high-tech classrooms

September 23, 2012

AOA spokesperson Geoffrey Goodfellow, O.D., participates in a national satellite media tour in which he conducted 22 media interviews.

How many hours a day do children spend on computers or other electronic devices? New data from the AOA’s 2012 American Eye-Q® consumer survey indicate 60 percent of parents estimate their children spend up to four hours per day at home or in school looking at a computer or digital device screen.

With smartboards, tablets and other digital tools being incorporated into daily school curricula, the technology has students spending much of their time learning and socializing in front of a screen.

“While these high-tech classrooms can greatly enhance learning, they can pose a number of challenges to the visual system,” said Geoffrey Goodfellow, O.D., AOA spokesperson and attending optometrist in the Pediatrics/Binocular Vision Service at the Illinois College of Optometry. “Many of these issues can be solved with frequent breaks, proper set up of computer screens and yearly, comprehensive eye exams by a doctor of optometry.”

Continuous or prolonged use of technology can lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), which may include eye strain, headaches, fatigue, burning or tired eyes, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain.

Pre-existing, uncorrected vision problems like farsightedness and astigmatism, difficulty with focusing or eye coordination can also contribute to discomfort associated with computer vision syndrome.

Parents and teachers can help students avoid CVS by encouraging them to follow the 20-20-20 rule.

When using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes, and view something 20 feet away.

Studies show that people need to rest their eyes to keep them moist. Plus, staring off into the distance helps the eyes refrain from locking into a close-up position.

According to the most recent AOA American Eye-Q® survey, 79 percent of parents are concerned that their child may be damaging their eyes due to technology use.

“Since these new classroom devices are so compelling to students, they tend to stare at them and use them for hours at a time, which fatigues their visual system,” said Dr. Goodfellow. “So, in addition to breaks, holding screens at the right height and distance is extremely important.”

In his interviews with 22 media outlets, Dr. Goodfellow stressed the following AOA guidelines that can help prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with computer vision syndrome:

  • Check the height and arrangement of the computer. According to optometrists, a computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about four or five inches) as measured from the center of the screen and held 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes.
  • Check for glare on the computer screen. If possible, windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. If this happens turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen.
  • Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
  • Keep blinking. To minimize the chances of developing dry eye when using a computer or digital device, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of the eye moist.

Most important, as part of the yearly, back-to-school checklist, students should see a doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye examination to ensure their eyes are healthy and functioning properly. The American Eye-Q® survey revealed 51 percent of parents do not include a visit to the eye doctor as part of their child’s back-to-school routine. Doctors of optometry can conduct specific tests that address and diagnose CVS and other vision and eye health issues.

“Early detection and treatment are key in correcting vision problems and helping students see clearly,” said Dr. Goodfellow.

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