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Here’s some tips for limiting eye strain for students engaged in remote learning

Ophthamologists recommend “20-20-20” rule for frequent small breaks
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The benefits and drawbacks of remote learning have been on full display these first couple of weeks of the school year -- from lower health risk, to failed Internet connections and distractions at home. Mental strain is one thing, but being mindful of eye strain has been another.

As Dr. Bob Rhee of Pediatric Ophthalmology Consultants, LLC explains it: “When you’re really focusing on up-close objects -- especially tablets, laptops, and computers -- there’s what’s called the ’20-20-20′ rule. That means [for every] 20 minutes up close, take a 20-second break and look at an object that’s at least 20 feet away.”

That’s sound advice for anyone staring at a screen for hours on end -- students, teachers or parents. Frequent breaks may be a tough ask sometimes, though 20 seconds is generally enough time out. The ciliary muscle is what helps our eyes focus on objects at different distances, and too much use leads to that eye strain. The good news is that pain or discomfort felt in the moment is not permanent, even with children in the virtual classroom who are still developing their senses.

“It really shouldn’t have any long-term effects,” Dr. Rhee says. “It’s more of a nuisance right now with remote learning being so suddenly prevalent.”

“Blue-light blocker” glasses have proven popular in recent years with those suffering from screen-related headaches and eye strain, though Dr. Rhee says it comes down to personal preference. “[Blue light] won’t physically hurt your eyes, but for some people -- just like sunglasses -- if you go out, it’s recommended, but for some, it doesn’t really affect you.”

Pre-existing conditions like astigmatism can lead to more visual fatigue when trying to focus, so regular check-ups are always a good idea no matter what age you are.

“Your first eye exam, even if everything’s okay and typical,” suggests Dr. Rhee, “you should be between 3 and 4 years old, then every year after until you’re 18. The #1 sensory input by far is vision, and you want to make sure that’s optimal.”

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