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  • Writer's pictureEsna van der Walt

Why too much screen time is bad for your eyes

Screen time is an unavoidable part of our daily lives, whether we’re using electronic devices for work, school, entertainment or socialising. However, too much screen time can affect your overall health, and eye health in children in particular. We will explore why too much screen time is bad for your eyes, and provide some easy guidelines that will help your family find a healthy screen time balance.

Eye problems associated with excessive screen time

Excessive screen time has been linked to vision problems such as myopia (nearsightedness) and convergence insufficiency, eye problems like digital eyestrain and dry eye syndrome, as well as other non-ocular problems.

Myopia and convergence insufficiency

Studies have associated excessive screen time to refractive errors such as myopia (nearsightedness), as well as convergence insufficiency – an eye condition that affects how your eyes work together when you look at nearby objects. These vision problems can cause blurry or double vision when you look at things up close, like a book or a smartphone screen.

Digital eye strain

Digital eye strain, also referred to as computer vision syndrome, is a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of computers, tablets, e-readers and cellphones. Symptoms include eye fatigue (asthenopia), eye discomfort, blurred or double vision, dry eyes, light sensitivity and poor night vision.

Dry eye syndrome

When we spend long stretches in front of a screen, we can suffer from dry eye syndrome. We tend to blink much less often when looking at a screen, which means that the eye is not lubricated by the thin tear film it needs for clear vision, resulting in dry and irritated eyes.

Non-ocular problems

Non-ocular problems caused by excessive screen time include having a stiff neck and back-ache due to poor posture, as well as general fatigue and disrupted sleeping patterns.

Screen time guidelines to protect your eyes

Now that you know why too much screen time is bad for your eyes, there are steps you can take to make screen time a balanced part of your family’s lives, and in doing so, protect the eye health of you and your children.

Get outside!

Fresh air and physical activity is good for your overall mental and physical health, but spending at least 60 minutes outside, looking at objects further away, will also improve your eye health, compared to prolonged periods looking at a screen up close.

Limit screen time

We all know less is more when it comes to our children's screen time, but here are some well-researched guidelines per age:

· 2 years and younger: NO screen time.

Excessive screen time reduces language development and increases the likelihood of childhood obesity.

· 2 - 5 years: Maximum of 1 hour screen time.

Higher rates of screen time are associated with less play, poorer social skills, slow language development and increased risk of obesity.

· 5 - 17 years: Maximum of 2 hours recreational screen time.

Less screen time is associated with better sleep and school performance.

20-20-20-20 rule

Give your eyes a break from the screen every 20 minutes, by looking at an object at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds as you blink 20 times. This allows your eyes to relax and return to their natural position.

Elbow rule

Be sure to keep your cell phone, computer or tablet screen at more than an elbow or forearm’s length from your eyes, to prevent vision problems such as myopia and convergence insufficiency.

Get an eye exam

Have you and your children’s eyes tested regularly to pick up on refractive errors or underlying binocular vision disorders. The earlier it is detected, the greater the chance of treating it, or preventing further deterioration.


Even though digital media is such an integral part of our daily lives, too much screen time can have a lasting impact on your eye health. Find a healthy balance by setting limits on the amount of screen time you and your children are exposed to, taking frequent breaks and keeping devices at an elbow’s length from your eyes.

Book an appointment with us

If you suspect that you or your child may have symptoms of vision problems such as myopia or convergence insufficiency due to prolonged screen time, talk to Tomlinson Optometrists. We can diagnose vision problems early on, prescribe the right lenses or design a custom vision therapy programme that will get your vision back on track.

Get in touch with us on WhatsApp:

Book an appointment online:

Phone 021 797 7291, email or visit us at 278B Main Road, Kenilworth.

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