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Eye health in a pandemic: Keeping vision safe with increased screen time

We are in front of computer screens more than ever before. What does that mean with staying eye healthy?

August is Children's Eye Health and Safety Month, perfectly positioned for parents as a reminder to add a visit to the optometrist to your back-to-school checklist. Only this year, eye safety is more important than ever before.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and adults alike are spending more time in front of a computer screen than ever before. Children are taking school classes at home virtually, while many parents are still working from home. That means increased screen time, and the potential for eye damage if you're not careful.

"Any time you’re spending more than two hours continuously staring at a screen, we are worried about digital eyestrain and discomfort," said Dr. Katherine White is an optometrist with Kirn Family Eye Care in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County. 

Dr. White suggests good eye health starts with a comfortable workspace. A chair with good back support will help prevent neck strain. A flat surface slightly below eye level for a laptop or computer kept about an arm's reach away will prevent digital eye strain, and ultimately keep you from getting headaches. 

White recommends everyone working from home subscribe to the '20-20-20 rule': That's every 20 minutes, you should look across the room, at least 20 feet away, for about 20 seconds. If you can get outside, Dr. White says simply taking a break away from your screen will help eye sight. If not, try to rest your eyes for 15 minutes every two hours with no other screens around.

For kids, it is recommended they stop using electronics at least an hour before bed time. Doctor White says studies have shown the more screen time closer to bed, the tougher it is to fall asleep.

Symptoms such as dry eyes, irritation or burning, or headaches should be responded with a call to an optometrist and a visit to the eye doctor.