Can Playing Video Games Hurt My Child's Eyes? You May Be Very Surprised

You blink 66% less while working on digital screens.

With the rise in popularity of video games and E-Sports, parents have always wondered what the potential side effects include after spending many hours in front of the television. Use of electronic displays can make your eyes feel tired, exacerbate dryness, and cause computer vision syndrome.

This article will help dispel some of the most popular myths.

According to the Nursing Online Education Database, healthy gameplay for your eyes consists of taking regular breaks, allotting a limited time for gameplay, minimizing glare on the screen, and if you already have them, wearing glasses. Individuals should consult their optometrist before attempting to engage in any form of "marathon" gameplay.

Virtual reality headsets are the latest in video game technology

Virtual reality headsets are the latest in video game technology

Many parents wonder if spending too much time playing video games can hurt their child. Questions arise about obesity and aggressive behavior. While extended periods of time playing video games may or may not affect a children's weight and behavior, many parents often forget about the possible effects on their eyes and vision.

Playing video games for extended amounts of time can cause children to experience many of the same symptoms seen in computer vision syndrome in adults. Extensive viewing of the game screen can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurry vision, and headaches. Kids seem to become so engrossed in video games that they forget to take breaks.

Prolonged game play without significant breaks can cause eye focusing problems, as well as eye irritation.

Focusing Problems 

The eyes focus much differently on a video screen than on a flat surface, such as a piece of notebook paper. When looking at printed material, the brain and eyes understand exactly what distance at which to focus. When looking at a video screen, the eyes are constantly changing focus, making the eyes very tired.

Furthermore, when playing video games, the eyes tend to become "locked in" to the screen. This may make it difficult for the eyes to focus easily on other objects, even long after the video game is turned off. Doctors suggest wearing appropriately prescribed glasses to improve vision and comfort.

Irritation, Redness, Dryness

Children tend to blink much less frequently while absorbed in a video game. This reduced blinking can significantly affect the flow of tears, sometimes resulting in dryness and irritation. Very rarely, individuals can spend so much time playing games without taking a break that permanent damage is done to the cornea. This should not be a problem for players who engage in healthy gameplay activities. Occasionally artificial tears such as these can help reduce symptoms of dryness:

  • Blink Tears (polyethylene glycol 400 0.25% plus Sodium Hyaluronate)

  • Systane Balance (propylene glycol 0.6%)

  • Refresh Optive Gel Drops (Carboxymethylcellulose sodium 1% and glycerin 0.9%)

If your children enjoy playing video games, encourage them to take frequent breaks. Set a timer for 20 minutes, and have them do something else for 5 minutes when the buzzer sounds. Also, make sure your children sit as far away as possible from the video screen. The minimum recommended distance in the case of console games, such as PlayStation, Gamecube, Xbox or Wii, is 6 feet. Setting guidelines for your children will help prevent the negative effects that prolonged video gameplay can have on their eyes.

What About 3D?

The rise of 3D gaming has brought with it a new set of concerns, which were exacerbated when Nintendo issued a warning that small children should not be allowed to use the 3D mode on Nintendo's portable 3DS game system. However, while research is still ongoing, the American Optometric Association says it may be beneficial for children to play 3D games. That's because playing 3D video games can actually help identify early warning signs of ocular disorders; difficulty perceiving 3D game images can be a sign of eye problems that might otherwise go unnoticed and undiagnosed.

But that's not the only way playing video games might actually help your eyesight. According to the National Institute of Health, studies prove that playing action video games enhances key aspects of visual processing, including spatial resolution - meaning gamers can actually see things easier and clearer. And some doctors have even successfully used video game therapy to treat and correct amblyopia, better known as lazy eye.

How Gaming Helps Your Eyes

With so many children playing video games for extended periods of time, it’s easy to assume there are only negative consequences for their eyes; although what’s harmful in excess is actually beneficial in moderation.

Studies from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have shown that first-person action games help improve spatial resolution, suggesting that video games can also serve as rehabilitation therapy for certain conditions like lazy eye. Action games can help improve contrast sensitivity, helping us better differentiate between shades of color against a uniform background. Action-oriented games can also give visual attention, as well as visual reaction time, a boost.

Click to read more about how video games can be useful for lazy eye

With your eye moving rapidly across the screen, you’re training your eyes to focus on subtle details while confronting fast-moving challenges. There’s also some evidence that any type of video game, not just first-person action games, can be good for the eyes.

Because too much exposure to blue light at night can be disruptive to sleep rhythms, it’s best to limit game playing to daylight hours. You can guard against computer eye syndrome by having your child take breaks every 20 minutes, or at least practice 20/20/20, which involves looking away for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

While an hour of playing can be beneficial, three or more hours at one sitting will lose those benefits. In addition to increasing the risk of computer eye syndrome, excessive video game use can cause eye discomfort, focusing problems, blurry vision and headaches. It’s so easy to get completely immersed in a game to forget to take breaks, and many games require complete focus. Moderation in use is often easier said than done.

Computer Vision Syndrome

It's true that prolonged video gaming sessions can have short term negative effects on your eye health. This is due to what the American OptometricAssociation calls computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain. Excessive use of digital devices like tablets and computers can lead to eye strain, headaches, dry eye, and fatigue in your shoulders and neck.

This is caused by a number of factors, including glare and low screen contrast forcing your eyes to work harder than usual. Since video games require constant use of screens, and often by design encourage players to continue playing for extensive periods of time, you may experience computer vision syndrome more often when gaming than during normal use of your devices.

To help prevent eye strain, make sure you have proper lighting to reduce glare, take frequent breaks to rest your eyes and blink often. You might miss that power up, but your eyes will thank you for it.

Encouraging a healthy lifestyle of diverse interests, that includes outside play, should help keep your children from overusing their video game consoles. So go ahead and play video games. Just remember to do it in moderation. Because when it comes to your eyes, sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing.