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Computers Hurt Kids' Eyes

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WebMD Health News

March 26, 2002 -- At home and at school, kids are glued to computers -- getting eye fatigue that could cause premature nearsightedness, or myopia, says one group of researchers. 

Optometrists at eight centers across the country analyzed 253 children, questioning them about computer habits and eye fatigue symptoms -- headaches, eye soreness, and blurry vision. They also checked the kids' eyes with various visual acuity and focusing tests. 

"We found that 25-30% of the kids we tested were at risk for computer vision problems," says Cary Herzberg, OD, a private practice optometrist in Aurora, Ill. 

The study, led by a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, has not yet been published. 

Just like adults, kids get eye fatigue when they stare at a computer too long, Herzberg tells WebMD. "But because kids are so adaptable, they won't complain about it." 

Nearsightedness is not always the result of eye fatigue, he says. "But a number of studies have shown that the more close work a child does, the more it leads to nearsightedness." 

At the heart of the problem is what vision specialists call "accommodation," Herzberg explains. "When you read a book, your eyes are not constantly looking at the next word in the sentence. They will jump from one part of the sentence to another. Each time your eyes make that jump, they have to refocus, accommodate for the distance. That causes eye fatigue." 

With computer work, eyes have to make more extreme changes in focus. "When you look at a screen, you don't focus only on the screen. You focus behind it a lot of the time." The eye fatigue that comes from that constant switch -- from 16 inches away to 20 inches away -- causes what's become known as "computer vision syndrome," says Herzberg. 

To prevent eyestrain, the child might need specially coated protective eyewear -- "computer glasses," he tells WebMD. 

It's true, eye fatigue is a common problem with computer use, says Evelyn Paysse, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She agreed to comment on Herzberg's study. 

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