20/20 LEARNING: Kids & Vision


Computer Vision Syndrome

Half of all Americans play video games — and we know how many of those are children! So it’s not surprising to hear that a national survey of doctors of optometry found that more than 14 percent of their patients come into their offices with eye or vision-related symptoms resulting from computer work.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has coined the new term, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

Children who spend more than two hours per day in front of a computer screen are likely to experience symptoms of CVS that include:

—Loss of focus
—Burning/tired eyes
—Double/blurred vision
—Neck and shoulder pains

According to a recent article in School Health Professional, CVS is caused by the eyes and brain reacting differently to characters on the screen than they do to ones on the printed page. Print characters have well-defined edges, whereas computer characters have pixels that are brightest in their centers and then diminish in intensity toward their edges. So our eyes drift from the focus, and then strain to refocus. It is this continuous flexing of the eyes’ focusing muscles that create tired, burning eyes, and lead to the symptoms mentioned above.
Contact lens and spectacle wearers can get some relief by wearing specially-prescribed computer glasses or the new contacts, like Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue Oasys, made for computer use.
But for everyone, there are ways to avoid CVS. Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, optometrist and author of Visual Ergonomics, gave the following advice in the article:

Reduce Glare. Locate your computer away from glare, or in a place where you can draw shades if necessary. Consider installing an anti-glare screen on the computer to reduce reflection.

Adjust Your Monitor. For maximum comfort, place the center of the screen 5-9 inches below your horizontal line of sight. “You should be looking just over the top of the monitor in your straight-ahead gaze,” he advised.

Take a Break. Dr. Anshel recommended the “20/20/20 rule” — take a 20-second break every 20 minutes. Focus your eyes on points at least 20 feet from the computer. Keep your eyes moving while looking at objects at various distances.

Consult an Eye Professional — if your child complains of any CVS symptoms.


By Allison Zieman and Dr. Julie Ralls

When it comes to myopia, there are two camps in the science world. The first believes that nearsightedness is hereditary. The second believes that nearsightedness is produced by environmental input. They believe dim lighting, too much up-close reading work, computer work, etc. can cause a lengthening of the eye and lead to myopia. Each camp has proof to support their viewpoint. The hereditary camp points to the fact that nearsightedness does tend to run in families. The environmental camp points to the higher incidence of myopia in certain professions that require more reading and up-close eye work. Where the split between the two camps gets interesting is how each camp has chosen to “cure” myopia.

How to cure myopia?
The “hereditary camp” has focused on using corrective wear to cure the problem. Glasses and contact lenses are used to compensate for the lengthened eyeball of near-sightedness and produce normal sight. Refractive surgery is also now a popular method. (We’d like to point out that refractive surgery is generally best for adults who’ve had the same level of sight for over a year). Lasik is the most common of this kind of surgery.
The “environmental camp” has taken a more preventive approach. They believe that good “eye habits” can prevent the onset of myopia or greatly reduce the need for strong corrective lenses. This camp sights present animal research, which demonstrates that the environment, especially distance, connects to the adjusting mechanism in the eye. They advocate establishing habits of not sitting too closely to computers or books when you are reading, using strong light, and taking breaks for your eyes to look around.

What can parents do?
Currently the two camps are merging, and we prefer to take an approach of the “best of both worlds.” If you have myopia right now, there’s a good chance your child might develop it, too. You can work on preventing and lessening your child’s need for glasses by keeping in mind the following:

—Have your child read books, watch television, and use computers at the furthest distance possible.

—Take breaks when reading or doing up close work. Approximately every 20 minutes, have your child look up to let the eye focus at a different length.

—Get this information out to schools and teachers. Myopia is most commonly diagnosed in second grade. This is one of the key reading years where children are working very hard on learning to read words and can be doing lots of up-close eye work.
—Keep in mind: Read with a good amount of light.


According to the National Eye Institute, amblyopia, or “lazy eye”, is the most common cause of visual impairment in childhood. occurs when the brain and the eye are not working together effectively. As the brain develops and receives diminished images from the affected eye, it begins to suppress those images and favor the unaffected eye. If this condition persists, the weaker eye may become useless.
“The most frightening aspect of amblyopia is that your child may have it and not even know it,” says Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. “The child grows up believing that how he or she sees is how everyone else sees.”
Prevent Blindness America has developed two new resources to help parents and children learn about, and effectively manage, amblyopia:

The Children and Eye Problems Web Discussion Forum allows parents the opportunity to discuss all subjects related to amblyopia (among other eye conditions), with other parents online. Topics range from general information on the condition and its treatment, to shared experiences and emotional support. The online community has grown to be the most active forum on Prevent Blindness America’s website with more than 500 active members.

The Eye Patch Club is for children with amblyopia and their families. Wearing a patch over the unaffected eye for extended periods of time is a common form of treatment, but not one that is generally met with enthusiasm from kids. The Eye Patch Club program is designed to encourage the children to wear their patches as prescribed by their doctor. Among other materials, members of the club receive their own special calendar and stickers.
The stickers are placed on the calendar for each day the child wears his or her patch. Once the calendar is complete, the child sends it into Prevent Blindness America to receive a special prize.
The Eye Patch Club kit is $12.95. Proceeds go to Prevent Blindness America’s sight-saving programs, including free vision screenings.

For info on both these new programs, and for resources on children’s vision issues, go to:

all year round

Tips from West New York, N.J. optometrist, Dr. Madeline Romeu and Transitions Optical:

Beware of sun damage during winter activities. Wear proper eyewear to block glare from the snow, and also carry a hat and sunblock. Watch for the warning signs of visual problems, including squinting and headaches.
Consider photochromic lenses for children — lenses that quickly change from clear indoors to as dark as sunglasses outdoors. These are a smart choice for children since it allows them to have only one pair of prescription lenses.
Check your UV index: Check daily UV levels http://us.transitions.com/healthysight/uvindex.aspx in your area and plan accordingly. After spending any time outdoors and under the sun, make sure children are drinking lots of water to keep both their skin and eyes hydrated.

Eye exams for overall health: Even though vision may be clear, exams can detect changes in the eye caused by underlying health problems. Some eye diseases have no symptoms in the early stages, so make yearly eye exams part of your entire family’s regular health routine.

— A.H.