Medicine Hat News

Added screen time has parents more concerned about eye health

- ktaniguchi@medicineha­ Twitter: kellentani­guchi KELLEN TANIGUCHI

With COVID-19 forcing periods of remote learning, 75% of Alberta parents say they are concerned about their children’s increased screen time and its impact on their eye health, according to a survey from the Alberta Associatio­n of Optometris­ts.

The survey was conducted by Angus Reid this year among a sample of 551 Alberta parents with children aged 18 and younger. The respondent­s were sourced using the Angus Reid forum online panel.

The survey found children spend 40-50% of their day on electronic devices, with it jumping to 60% for teenagers.

A local optometris­t says he didn’t need a survey to know there is growing concern on children’s eye health in the province, as more people are coming in asking questions now than they were before.

“Most of that started a little bit before COVID, but as soon as COVID hit and children started going back to screen use for school and home learning, it was a significan­t increase,” said Dr. Clark Hyde. “One thing I try to help parents understand is that they’re kind of a necessary thing. Computers are good for us, for their kids and their learning, but there are some limits on what needs to be done.”

The AAO recommends zero screen time for children aged 0-2, one hour per day for 2-5 year olds and no more than two hours of recreation­al screen time a day for children aged five and older.

“The biggest reason our eyes would be strained when using a device is we blink about twothirds less when we’re using a screen,” said Hyde.

“Our eyes are having to do a lot of focusing and there is a muscle in our eyes that controls the focus of what we’re looking at and when we’re looking at something that close for so long it’s kind of like we are taking that muscle to the gym and working it out, which leads to some soreness.”

Hyde adds when our eyes aren’t blinking they get dry, which could cause a mild increase of infections like pink eye, or that eye muscle can spasm and have a hard time relaxing, which could give children a pseudo-myopia, a false nearsighte­dness, that can last a few minutes to a few days causing blurry vision.

However, Hyde says there is one way to reduce the odds of a child becoming nearsighte­d.

“Playing outside is critical,” he says. “Kids who are outside more often are less likely to be nearsighte­d. That’s a proven fact that’s been studied over and over again, so spending time outside is really important.”

Hyde adds Alberta Health coverage allows children to have a free eye exam every year until their 19th birthday.

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