With young children increasingly playing for hours on end with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, this might grow to be a problem for them as well.

Dr Tay Su Ann, Consultant for the Paediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus Department at Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), a member of the SingHealth group, shares more about the negative effects these devices may have on a child’s eyesight if excessive use sets in.

Mobile device overuse increases the risk of myopia (short-sightedness)

“Playing with handheld devices constitutes near work, which has been shown to be associated with myopia (commonly known as short-sightedness),” says Dr Tay.

For children in Singapore, this is especially worrisome as the country already has one of the highest incidences of childhood myopia in the world. Furthermore, the earlier a child develops short-sightedness, the higher the risk of severe myopia in later life.

Dr Tay adds, “Besides myopia, there are also less common eye conditions that may arise after a prolonged period of near work. These include convergence or accommodative insufficiency, in which the ability of the eyes to converge (turn inwards towards each other) or to focus well on near objects is impaired. This may cause symptoms like eye fatigue and sometimes even double vision.”

Hence, parents should take note of symptoms and behaviours such as:

  1. Frequent rubbing of the eyes
  2. Excessive blinking
  3. Tearing
  4. Tilting of the head or squinting when reading or watching TV
  5. Headaches from eye strain
  6. Complaining of eye tiredness or double vision

If a child exhibits any of these symptoms or complaints, it is recommended that they have their vision checked and eye screening. This can be performed at the primary healthcare physician or an optometrist (for older children) and if deemed necessary a further referral may be made to an ophthalmologist.

Watch out for "lazy eye"

Moderate to high myopia can also cause “lazy eye”, a condition also known as amblyopia. This deteriorates the child’s vision even if there’s no structural problem with the eye. “Amblyopia arises during early childhood when one or both eyes send blurry images to the brain. If the brain does not receive clear images during the period of visual development, it then learns to only see blurry,” explains Dr Tay.

Fortunately, amblyopia is completely treatable if the condition is diagnosed early – preferably before the age of six.

“If amblyopia is detected late, the child’s vision may not improve even when spectacles are prescribed, or may even be permanently impaired,” Dr Tay warns.

How to prevent eye fatigue from using mobile devices - tips for parents

As a parent, barring your child from using mobile devices may not be the best or most practical approach. After all, your child will be exposed to these devices sooner or later.

Instead, you should consider setting limits for your child when it comes to the use of such devices. This can be done by:

  1. Moderating near work, e.g. playtime on mobile devices, to about 30 minutes per session
  2. Ensuring that your child takes frequent periods of eye rest when using such device
  3. Ensuring that near vision activities are performed at a sufficient distance (device held at least 30cm away
  4. Encouraging your child to also engage in outdoor activities

Ref: N18