Dry Eye Disease (DED) is a common condition that affects millions of people every year. The disease is characterized by dry, uncomfortable, red, and inflamed eyes. This occurs when the tear film is deficient in quantity and quality to moisturize and lubricate the eyes. DED increases with age and has a higher prevalence in women. With the use of digital devices especially in the younger generations, our Optometrists are starting to see a higher prevalence of dry eye cases in younger children in office.
Does Smartphone Usage Affect Pediatric Dry Eye Disease?
As smartphone usage increases, the median age of smartphone users decreases. Children are beginning to acquire and use smartphones/digital screens from as young as six years of age especially in urban settings such as Calgary. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended the following:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
A study done by Moon et al on Smartphone use is a risk factor for pediatric dry eye disease according to region and age: a case control study showed that smartphone usage in children is directly linked to pediatric dry eye disease. Increased duration and usage of smartphones increases a child’s risk of DED. What as interesting to note is increased outdoor activity helps to reduce a child’s risk of DED.
So what does this mean for parents and children?
As an Optometrist and mother, it is important for parents to monitor their child’s screen time. Limiting that time based on the recommendations above and encouraging play will help them reduce their risks of DED and other eye conditions such as myopia or nearsightedness. Spending time interacting with your children will help develop family bonds and socialization skills. Encouraging play time will help hand-eye-foot-coordination and allow for them to use their imagination.