Dry eye syndrome in children and teens

The rate of dry eye syndrome has been examined more closely in recent years in teens and adolescents. Studies have been conducted to examine several factors such as dry eye symptoms, signs, rate of blinking and the quality of blinks taken. Blinking is your eyes way of lubricating and keeping the eye surface moist. There are two main categories for dry eyes, either underproduction of tears or production of poor quality tears, or combination of both. As dry eye disease worsens the symptoms are often further amplified. Common symptoms include gritty sandy feeling or foreign body sensation. Also itching watery eyes in many cases.  And in many advanced cases vision is affected as well.

Picture of a child receiving an eye exam and being tested for dry eyes

When using computer screen for extended periods many studies have shown the blinking rate is reduced significantly. So, when not blinking enough your eyes start to dry out.  A normal blink rate is 15 to 20 times per minute. When using computer screens studies have shown that number is reduced. Also, other studies have found that reading using a computer screen; the percentage of incomplete blinks is higher.  As we blink less and have a higher percentage of incomplete blinks our tears evaporate and the eyes dry up too quickly. In anther words, when you concentrate hard on a task such as on a computer screen you blink less and also instead of fully blinking you partially blink. The result is too much screen time, not enough blink time. With less blinking and less complete blinks the tears evaporate too quickly and cause the eyes to dry up.

The preventative proactive approach is the most ideal. The goal is to identify the root or the cause of the problem and treat accordingly. It is recommended to patients to blink fully and blink often when they are in front of a tablet or a computer screen. Dry eye disease is a chronic and progressive condition. Treating and managing the condition early usually can prevent the condition from progressing in the future. It’s also a good idea to limiting screen time to few hours a day.  It’s important to ensure kids are seen routinely for an eye examination on an annual basis or more frequently if indicated by their doctor. Eye examinations are recommended at 6 months of age, at 3 years of age then yearly thereafter.  A big part of the eye examination is assessing the health of the eyes to make sure that the eyes are staying healthy or if problems arise they can be caught early. Aside from regular annual eye examination by an optometrist, we recommend taking frequent breaks when working on a computer screen. A good quick rule of thumb to remember is 20/20/20, for every 20 minutes of screen time take a 20 second pair and look at least 20 feet away.  Also to always remember to take complete blinks.

In addition to extended screen time, an imbalanced diet in some cases can cause dry eye disease.  So there is also a nutritional component to it. Maintaining a healthy diet balanced with omega 3 fatty acids is also crucial. An omega-3-rich diet helps glands in your eye called Meibomian glands to make the oily part of your tears. That oily layer in the tears helps keep your tears from drying up too quickly. Many types of fish are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids as well as green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach.  Environmental factors also play a role. Things like ceiling fans, desk fans or air conditioners blowing towards your face can make your eyes dry.

If you are experiencing symptoms indicative of dry eyes and would like to see one of our dry eye optometrists, call our Toronto Queen St location today to book your appointment.