Helping students to be proactive about preventing blue light exposure

Learning in a modern classroom often depends less on textbooks and more on technology. Most students are accustomed to virtual learning and often rely on technology to stay connected with teachers and complete assignments, this reliance on digital devices may put students at higher risk of eye issues such as nearsightedness or digital eye strain — especially when combined with screen time at home.

Dr. Premilla Banwait.

“Outside activities still rank at the top of the list of favorite activities for most kids — but playing on digital devices and watching TV scores highly, too,” said Dr. Premilla Banwait, vice president of clinical programs at UnitedHealthcare. “We want young people and adults to be aware of the blue light that comes with that screen time, what it may mean for their eye health and overall well-being and what they can do about it.”

The sun is the largest source of natural blue light as it can boost alertness, help cognitive function, and elevate mood, Dr. Banwait said however, blue light becomes concerning when individuals are exposed to artificial sources through TVs, computers and smartphones. Researchers continue to evaluate the potential health implications that may come from too much exposure to blue light, including sleep problems and various symptoms that are collectively called digital eye strain. Compared to adults, children may be at higher risk for these issues, as their still-developing eyes may allow more blue light to reach their retinas.

Additionally, when devices are viewed often at close range, for prolonged periods of time along with reduced outdoor time there is increased risk of nearsightedness – or the inability to see far-away objects clearly. Nearsightedness affects 42% of Americans, up from 25% in the 1970s and may contribute to serious eye diseases later in life, including retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.

Here are tips to help reduce the risk of nearsightedness and digital eye strain

  • Keep computer screens at least 30 inches away from your eyes and consider using larger screens and font sizes whenever possible.
  • Use night mode, a warmer-looking setting that may appear as a yellow or amber tint.
  • Consider glasses with blue-light-filtering lenses or anti-reflective coatings, which may help protect against harmful blue light and glare, both of which can contribute to digital eye strain.
  • Practice the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away.
  • Spend time outside to give your eyes time focusing on objects far in the distance and get exposure to healthy, natural blue light.

Beyond these measures, remember that a comprehensive eye exam should be part of your child’s health checkups. The American Optometric Association recommends an exam before first grade and annually, or as recommended, thereafter.

Getting an exam scheduled over the summer may make it easier to be ready for the next school year — especially because the ability to see is crucial for children’s scholastic and social development.

One more thing: With nearsightedness on the rise and up to 50 percent of the global population at risk of developing the condition by 2050, UnitedHealthcare vision members in six cities — Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — now have access to a complimentary comprehensive assessment for myopia and a discount off the first year of treatment for new pediatric patients ($450 total value). These appointments are offered in collaboration with Treehouse Eyes, a leader in childhood myopia management treatment, with the goal to over time expand this discount program to additional UnitedHealthcare vision members in more cities.