Doha, 4 October, 2021: With children spending more time in front of computer screens, tablets and TV, Occupational Therapy experts at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) are offering parents advice and strategies to help reduce the long term harm this can bring.
The profession of occupational therapy is concerned with healthy engagement in everyday activities and Sultan Salim Hammam Al Abdulla is leading the department at HMC.
Research has shown that overuse of digital gadgets can potentially lead to a variety of problems like eye strain, retinal damage, myopia, sleep disturbances, musculoskeletal problems and behavioral abnormalities. The American Optometric Association defines digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome as a range of visual and ocular symptoms arising due to the prolonged use of digital electronic devices.
Dr. Brightlin Nithis from the Occupational Therapy Department said COVID-19 has seen children are being increasingly exposed to digital devices including laptops, notebooks, and smartphones which had led to an unprecedented rise in screen time among children.
“Screen usage can cause children to use various accommodative strategies, for example squinting the eyes to focus more or withholding blinking for long periods of time to attend to the visual information. Normally we blink up to 17–26 times per minute. But this could be reduced up to 3.6–11.6 blinks/minute during computer use leading to eye strain,” he explained.
“Squinting the eyes is more common during computer use to enhance concentration and to control glare. This increases tension in the eye muscles and may cause eye pain and tired eyes.”
The profession of occupational therapy is concerned with healthy engagement in everyday activities. At HMC Occupational Therapy works across the organization.
Dr. Nithis said optimally, frequent rest should be given to the eyes from the screen during computer use and a 15 minute break is required every two hours of continuous computer use.
“The safe distance for the computer screen is between 45 cm and 70 cm from the eyes. In addition, the computer screen should be angled 15 to 20 degrees below eye level as measured from the center of the screen,” he said. “If smartphone screens are being used, the distance should be beyond 40 cm.”
Other strategies to help children deal with additional screen time include:
- When using digital screens, children should follow the 20-20-20 rule. That is for every 20 minutes, look away at something as far as 20 feet for 20 seconds
- Reduce screen-related activities like watching television, browsing social media and internet. In this regard, parents should become role models for their children
- Children reminded to blink frequently while using digital screens
- Use of two digital devices simultaneously should be avoided such as reading a message on the mobile phone in between attending classes on a laptop. It is hard for the eyes to accommodate different working distances, font sizes, viewing angles, light intensities and contrasts.
- Children should be educated regarding the ambient light in the environment in order to avoid glare and reflections. Ideally, the lighting in the room should be half that of normal room illumination when using a computer. This can be done with dimmer switches, closing curtains or shades, or use of low intensity bulbs
- Screen brightness should be about the same as the surroundings. Children should be taught to adjust the screen brightness that is comfortable for them so that they can view the computer without much squinting. Night-mode should be utilized while using screens during the evening hours
- Use of anti-glare screen filters decrease the amount of light reflected from the screen thereby reduces the strain on eyes.
- Uncorrected refractive error is a major cause of eye strain and headache. Therefore an eye exam is a must for all children. Even if no problems were found during the exam, vision screening should be done every year.
- Sitting posture while using digital screens is important to prevent development of any musculoskeletal discomfort such as back pain or neck pain. Therefore, chairs should be comfortably padded and conform to the body. Chair height should be adjusted so the feet rest flat on the floor. Arms should be adjusted to provide support while typing. If writing on a notebook is required while attending online classes, notebook should be kept approximately the same distance as the screen. An overlay could be used above the keyboard to place the notebooks during such tasks.