Zane F. Pollard, MD
Today's teachers make full use of computers, interactive whiteboards, digital devices, and even 3D technology to enhance the learning environment. Forty percent of teachers use computers for instruction, and at least one computer is in 97% of all American classrooms. That adds up to a lot of screen time for kids who also watch TV or play on the computer at home. But is it harmful to a child’s vision?
Parents are worried. Nearly a third say they’re concerned that computers and handheld electronics may damage their child’s eyesight. And 53% of parents believe 3D viewing may be harmful, according to a survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA).
What does science say? So far, no evidence-based study has found that new technology itself causes vision problems, other than eye fatigue. Yet a 2009 study showed that the number of people with nearsightedness (myopia) has increased from 25% to nearly 42% in the last 30 years.
One theory: Today’s kids spend far more time doing "near work," such as texting, looking stuff up on cell phones, and playing computer games. And the increased timespent looking at things close up may have an effect. Other possible factors may include genetics and lack of outdoor activity.
"It used to be, 'if my child reads for too long, if my child reads too small print, if they hold the book too close, is that going to make them nearsighted?'" says Pia Hoenig, OD, MA, FAAO, associate clinical professor andchief of the Binocular Vision Clinic at UC Berkeley. Now parents are asking the same questions about computers, smart phones, and 3D.
But most vision experts say parents can rest assured, as long as they apply commonsense rules to how much time their children spend on electronic devices.
"These new technologies are challenging our visual system," says James E. Sheedy, OD, PhD, director of optometric research at the Vision Performance Institute and professor of optometry at Pacific University in Oregon. But there is no evidence that they actually damage the eyes. "There really is nothing to fear, says Sheedy."
Hoenig agrees: The key "is not to stop kids from using electronics -- there are too many pluses. It's to use them wisely."
"I think all these new technologies are pretty wonderful," says Sheedy, who is also a technology and vision expert with the American Optometic Association. But, he says, there are things we need to be aware of.
You can help your child prevent eyestrain, as well as neck and back pain, by taking these steps:
3D is an exciting and fun new technology being used in many classrooms all across the country. Sheedy, along with other vision health experts, was involved in the recent AOA report, "3D in the Classroom: See Well, Learn Well." It conclusively states that watching 3D images does not harm children's eyesight. In fact, says Sheedy, "viewing 3D is actually a pretty good screening mechanism for people who've got vision problems."
In order to see something in 3D, each eye needs to process a separate image, Sheedy explains. The 3D glasses help us do that. Your eyes need to converge, or come together, to see the 3D objects that appear closer to you, yet your focus remains on the main display screen. This challenges our eye coordination and eye focusing skills. Thus, it can reveal weaknesses in our vision that aren't detected in simple vision tests.
While the majority of people don't have problems viewing 3D, some experience eyestrain, headaches, nausea, discomfort, or dizziness, says Hoenig. Others just can't see the 3D images. This may be a sign of eye health problems such as lazy eye, poor focusing and coordination skills, or vision misalignment. Hoenig and Sheedy both recommend that parents ask children how they feel after viewing 3D. If the child complains of any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment for a full eye exam that includes testing eye coordination and focusing skills. The good news is that most of these children's vision problems can be treated with glasses or contact lenses.
Both experts also suggest having an eye exam at the beginning of each school year. "At this time of year when you're buying notebooks and school clothes, you ought to be thinking of getting the eyes ready for school," says Sheedy. "The eyes are pretty important to the learning process."
SOURCES:News release, American Optometric Association.Pia Hoenig, OD, MA, FAAO, associate clinical professor andchief, Binocular Vision Clinic, University of California, Berkeley.James Sheedy, OD, PhD, director of optometric research, Vision Performance Institute; professor of optometry, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Ore.American Optometric Association: "3D in the Classroom: See Well, Learn Well."Jones-Jordan, L. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, August 2007; vol 48: pp 3524-3532.Vitale, S. Archives of Ophthalmology, December 2009; vol 127: pp 1632-1639.Deng, L. Optometry and Vision Science, June 2010; vol 87: pp 406-413.Jones-Jordan, L. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, March 2011; vol 52: pp. 1841-1850.GetEyeSmart.org: "Computer Use and Eye Strain."American Optometric Association: "Computer Vision Syndrome."Straker, L. Ergonomics, April 2010; vol 53: pp 458-477.National Center for Education Statistics: "Teachers' Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009."Czepita D. Klinca Oczna, 2010; vol 112: pp 293-295.
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