Increased online activities during the pandemic has caused higher rates of dry eye for many. All clinicians should encourage their patients to take regular short breaks from screens.
COVID: Children Overuse Vision In Distance-learning
Many schools have transitioned to online learning during the pandemic. With many hours of screen time every day, students may be suffering from dry eye. Almost five million Americans age 50 and older suffer with dry eye, which can cause decreased reading vision, foreign-body sensation, redness, excessive tearing, and a generalized sense of eye fatigue. While less common than in adults, dry eye in school-age patients can be irritating, painful, and affect vision.
Ophthalmologists are noticing a higher prevalence of dry eye in school-age patients during the pandemic due to a combination of factors. Virtual learning has placed a higher demand on students to rely on electronic devices throughout the day. The increased screen time and lack of blinking associated with reading is one factor contributing to dry eye. In addition, mask-wearing causes expelled air to be directed toward the eyes and results in more rapid evaporation of the tear film that protects the cornea.
So, what can we advise parents to provide relief to their children? Here are 4 suggestions:
1. Set a timer for 20-30 second breaks from the screen for every 20-30 minutes of work.
2. Use artificial tears throughout the day and at bedtime to lubricate the eyes and replenish the natural tear film.
3. Avoid direct exposure to heating or air conditioning units that can further exacerbate dry eye.
4. Consider placing an over-the-counter dry eye ointment inside the lower lid at bedtime to coat the surface of the eye.
As with any medical condition, if symptoms persist, encourage parents to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. There are uncommon systemic diseases that can be associated with dry eye in children.