Heal O Israel, Will Too Much Screen Use Hurt My Kids’ Eyes?

September 12, 2018

5 min read

I have two children aged 10 and eight who spend many hours of the day opposite TV, laptop, iPad and smartphone screens. I worry if it hurts their eyesight. Is too much screen time harmful for children’s vision? A.S., Portland, Oregon

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich answers:

Researchers recently published an article about this in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They reported that eye doctors are seeing a marked increase in children with dry eye and eye strain from too much screen time.

It’s a fact that there is a worldwide epidemic of myopia, also known as nearsightedness. Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness in the US nearly doubled, to 42 percent. In Asia, up to 90 percent of teenagers and adults are nearsighted. Clearly, something is going on. But scientists can’t agree on exactly what.

A new study appearing in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers further evidence that at least part of the worldwide increase in nearsightedness has to do with near work activities; not just screens but also traditional books.

Spending time outdoors – especially in early childhood – can slow the progression of nearsightedness. It remains unclear whether the rise in nearsightedness is due to focusing on screens all the time, or to light interacting with our circadian rhythms to influence eye growth, or none of the above.

While scientists look for a definitive answer, there is no doubt that most computer users experience digital eyestrain. Kids are no different from adults when it comes to this problem. They can experience dry eye, eye strain, headaches and blurry vision, too. While symptoms are typically temporary, they may be frequent and persistent.

But the ophthalmologists wrote that this doesn’t mean they need a prescription for computer glasses or that they have developed an eye condition of middle-age that requires reading glasses, as some suggest. It also doesn’t mean that blue light coming from computer screens is damaging their eyes. It means they need to take more frequent breaks. This is because we don’t blink as often while using computers and other digital devices. Extended periods of reading, writing or other intensive near work can also cause eye strain. Eye doctors recommend taking a 20- second break from near work every 20 minutes.

To help protect your children’s eyes, set a kitchen timer or a smart device timer to remind them to rest. Alternate reading an e-book with a real book and encourage kids to look up and out the window every two chapters. After completing a level in a video game, look out the window for 20 seconds.

Pre-mark books with a paperclip every few chapters to remind your child to look up. On an e-book, use the “bookmark” function for the same effect.

Avoid using a computer outdoors or in brightly lit areas, as the glare on the screen can create strain. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen so that it feels comfortable. Use good posture when using a computer and reading.

Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away, 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 centimeters) is ideal. Create a distraction that causes your child to look up every now and then. Remind them to blink when watching a screen.

I gave birth four months ago to my first baby, whom I am breastfeeding. I have soon to go back to work. I wonder how I can combine bottle and breastfeeding her as I go back to work. What is the best way to handle it? Pumping? Giving baby formula? P.N., Los Angeles, California, USA.

Wendy Blumfield, veteran Israeli breastfeeding counselor living in Haifa, with certification from the National Childbirth Trust UK, responds:

You have done very well to breastfeed exclusively for the past four months, and it is certainly possible to combine with bottles when you return to work. Your milk supply is very well established by now so pumping and storing your own milk should certainly be possible.

Breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for three days and for several weeks in a freezer. For about two weeks before returning to work, pump any surplus milk you have after each feed. It is a good idea to get your baby used to taking a bottle. You could give this pumped milk to her her just once or twice a day.

If she resists taking the bottle from you, try and hand over to your partner or a friend. If you pump immediately after feeding the baby, your hormones are still releasing the maximum of milk, but obviously you may not be able to pump a large quantity. Store the milk in small sterile containers in the fridge and only when they are cold, combine them in a larger bottle to give to the baby as a complete feed.

When you return to work, pump as much as you can after breastfeeding in the morning, take a pump to work and pump every three hours just to keep the milk supply going and so that you do not suffer engorgement.

I hope that you will be given a quiet and private space to use a breast pump. That milk can be stored in a refrigerator at work and brought home to be used the next day. In this way you can pump a reserve of milk two or three days ahead so that you don’t even need to freeze milk. If you do freeze milk, store it in sterile bags, not bottles and label each bag carefully so that you use them in date order.

If you are hiring a nanny. make sure that she understands that she has to give the refrigerated milk according to your instructions. The milk should be given at room temperature, it should not be heated in a microwave, just by putting the bottle in a pan of hot water until it is warm. 

If your baby will be cared for in a day-care center it is essential that you explain these rules before you take the baby on that first stressful day. The bottles should be kept in the refrigerator there in a sealed bag labelled carefully with your name and the date.

When the baby is six months or even less if her weight is good, you can start on solid food and gradually the baby, will require less milk. If for example at lunchtime, she is given vegetables and later on other protein foods, she can be given cooled boiled water or juice to drink instead of milk. As these meals increase it gets much easier to keep up the supply of pumped and stored milk.

It is certainly worth keeping your supply going at least till her first birthday so that the milk that the baby receives is yours and not formula.

In some states there are laws about giving nursing mothers space and time to express and store milk – so do find out your rights ahead of time.

If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at judy@israel365.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.

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