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Technology overload can spell eye discomfort

Good news, kids. Despite what your parents might promise, you probably won’t wreck your eyes by playing video games or poking at your cellphone for ridiculously long stretches of time.

There are plenty of other reasons not to do those things, said Alan Johnson, an optometrist at the Spokane Eye Clinic. But “you can’t really have any permanent damage to eyes from using a computer, whether you’re a child or an adult.”

You can make your eyes uncomfortable, though.

Prolonged use of technology can lead to eye strain, headaches, fatigue, burning or tired eyes, a loss of focus, blurred vision and double vision, according to the American Optometric Association. The group this month issued the results of a survey of more than 1,000 adults. Nearly 80 percent of parents worried technology might be damaging their children’s eyes, the survey found.

The optometric association called that set of symptoms “computer vision syndrome.”

That label might be a little strong, Johnson said. There’s no evidence you can do long-term damage by using computers or digital devices.

“The good news is they’re transient, short-term symptoms,” Johnson said.

Still, especially as kids head back to school (that first book report is practically due already), it doesn’t hurt to know how to avoid them.

Johnson advocated the “20-20-20 rule”: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look 20 feet away from your screen.

A person’s eyes tend to “lock in” on their computer or device screen, he said. “It’s kind of like sitting in one location for a long time – your eyes kind of stiffen up in that position,” he said. Short breaks ease the strain.

Many computer users get dry eyes, which cause blurry vision. That’s because they stare at their screens without blinking. So, advised Johnson, remember to blink – he’s had patients who post reminder notes on their desktops. Artificial tears-type eyedrops work, too.

As for limits on kids’ screen time: “There’s no hard science to say two hours is the maximum versus eight hours,” Johnson said.

But, he added: “Certainly, it’s not going to hurt them to go outside, too.”