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Digital Device Use in Children

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on July 7, 2020

I’d tell you that digital device use among children and teens is on the rise, but you only have to look at your waiting room to see that is the case. Still, I thought I would share some statistics with you:

41 percent of 8-12-year-olds have a smartphone
84 percent of 13-18-year-olds have a smartphone
By age 3, 54 percent of children engage in online activities

All that digital use means an increase in eye strain and believe it or not, dry eye in children. A study was done in 2016 that looked at 916 patients age 7 to 12 and 60 patients were found to have symptoms of dry eye. When 30 out of the 60 didn’t use their smartphones for a month, their symptoms improved.

While parents are the ones who bring the kids into your practice when their children complain of symptoms, you don’t have to wait for parental intervention. When parents and kids are in your practice for the yearly exam have the kids fill out a dry eye questionnaire, such as the Standardized Patient Evaluation of Eye Dryness, Ocular Surface Disease Index, and the five-item Dry Eye Questionnaire. The information you get from these questionnaires will inform the treatment plan for the patient.

Scott E. Schachter, OD, an optometrist with a practice in Pismo Beach, California did these things when presented with a young patent with dry eye. The patient in question was a 10-year old male, who played a lot of video games. He complained that his eyes started burning and watering after 4 hours of game time and it got worse after 8 hours of game time.

The kid had 20/20 vision in each eye, his meibum was clear and the meibomian glands were normal. Since his dry eye was the result of prolonged digital use, Schachter did two things. One, he spoke to both the kid and his parents about limiting screen time and practicing the 20/20/20 rule, which is to look 20 feet away from the screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes that he is on his gaming device or computer. Two, Schachter prescribed half the adult dose of gamma-linolenic acid nutraceutical, artificial tears, as well glasses with a blue light filter and antireflective coating. At the one month follow up, there was no corneal staining and the patient’s Standardized Patient Evaluation of Eye Dryness (SPEED) score decreased from an 11 to 4.

Schachter and other eye doctors agree that screening all patients from pediatric to adult for dry eye is the best way to find those with dry eye and subsequently put forth a treatment plan. Digital devices aren’t going away, so that means more young people will be diagnosed with dry eye. So, with proper screening (no pun intended), your practice can treat those most affected by screen time.


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