Too much screen time leads to eye strain - East Valley Tribune: Health

Too much screen time leads to eye strain

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Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 12:21 am

For today's students, life is all about staring at a screen.

They spend hours doing homework, playing games, chatting with friends, reading books and just hanging out -- all on computers, smart phones and e-readers or tablets.

And doctors say they're starting to pay the price: in eye strain, neck pain and wrist aches.

"Kids have a limited degree of awareness, so they'll just play and play until they're exhausted," said Patricia Smith of Triangle Eye Physicians in Raleigh, N.C. "You've got to parent up and limit the amount of computer time."

She offered these tips for parents concerned about their children's eye health.

Make sure your child is viewing the computer at his or her own height. A child sitting at an adult's desk will be looking up at the screen. This exposes more eye surface, increases the rate of blinking and can lead to eye fatigue more quickly.

Take note if your child is complaining of dry or itchy eyes. Sometimes kids can develop "dry eye syndrome" from staring at a screen and not blinking enough.

Watch for excessive eye rubbing. Kids who are heavy eye rubbers can actually damage their corneas.

Make sure that when your kids take breaks, they are not simply moving to another screen-related activity, like watching TV. Encourage them to go outside, play a game or do something else that does not involve a monitor to truly give their eyes a break.

Sitting up straight can do a lot to prevent posture problems or pain in the back and neck, said Amy Howes, a physical therapist. She offered these tips for parents and kids.

Find a chair that supports your lower back. Your feet should be on the floor and should be in line with your knees. If your child's feet do not reach the floor, use a footrest or other booster.

Use a desk. Do not use a computer or laptop sitting on the couch. "That sort of makes you want to slouch and bend over, and that's not always best," she said. "Plus, if you're sitting on a couch, you're much more likely to not be doing your work and to get distracted."

Keep your ears in line with your shoulders and your shoulders in line with your hips. In other words -- sit up straight!

If you find that you have soreness or pain in your back or neck, try these three simple stretching exercises.

1. Sit up straight, put your arms at your sides and try to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, relax and then repeat.

2. Tilt your ear toward your shoulder to stretch your neck, hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then look straight ahead and then repeat for the other shoulder.

3. Bring your shoulders up toward your ears like you are shrugging, hold for a few seconds and then relax.

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