Does Playing Video Games Hurt Your Eyes?

Possible Concerns and Prevention Strategies

Caregivers often worry about the possible health effects of video games on children—for example, obesity and aggressive behavior. One concern that may not be as top of mind? Whether or not playing video games can hurt a child's eyes.

Extended periods of time playing video games can, indeed, cause eye strain, irritation, focusing issues, and more. It's important to take steps to protect your child's eyes if they play video games often.

This article reviews some of reasons why your child's eyes hurt after playing video games. You'll also learn how to prevent eyestrain from video games.

Girl playing video game
Rebecca Nelson / Getty Images

Do Video Games Damage Your Eyes?

Research has shown that prolonged gameplay without significant breaks can cause eye focusing problems and computer vision syndrome. Kids can experience eye discomfort, irritation, fatigue, blurry vision, and headaches.

These symptoms usually don't mean the eye is permanently damaged. If a child stops playing video games—or at least takes breaks—the symptoms should get better. However, players often become so engrossed in video games that they forget to take tear themselves (and their eyes) away.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)

According to the American Optometric Association, people who spend a lot of time on a computer or other screens can develop specific problems with their eyesight. The condition is called computer vision syndrome or CVS.

Kids who play video games can get computer vision syndrome. The signs of CVS include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Dry eyes
  • Eyestrain
  • Neck pain, back pain, or shoulder pain

Computer vision syndrome symptoms can be made worse by playing games for a long time without a break, playing in dimly lit rooms, sitting too close to the screen, or poor posture while gaming.

Kids who already have problems with their eyesight, like astigmatism, might be more likely to get computer vision syndrome.

Focus Problems 

If a child's eyes hurt from playing video games they might also have problems focusing their vision.

The eyes focus much differently on a video screen than they do on a flat surface, such as a piece of notebook paper.

When looking at printed material, the brain and eyes understand exactly what distance they need to focus. When looking at a video screen, the eyes are constantly changing focus, making the eyes very tired.

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.

Eye Irritation

Video games can cause eye irritation, especially if a child is playing for a long time without taking breaks.

Kids tend to blink much less frequently while absorbed in a video game or other screen use. Not blinking enough can affect the flow of tears, leading to dryness and irritation.

Reducing Eye Strain and Other Concerns

There are steps caregivers and kids can take to help prevent eye problems from playing video games.

Here are a few ways to reduce eye strain and protect vision while gaming:

  • Take breaks often (including "blinking breaks")
  • Sit in proper posture while playing
  • Use glasses with an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare from screens
  • Avoid gaming in a dark room
  • Try to limit screen time at night and before going to bed

Advice for Parents

If your kids like playing video games, that's fine. Just encourage them to take frequent breaks while they're gaming to avoid eye problems.

Set a timer for 20 minutes, then have them do something else for 5 minutes when the buzzer sounds. Also, make sure your children sit as far away from the video screen as possible.

The minimum recommended distance for playing console games, such as PlayStation, Xbox, or Wii, is 6 feet.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • 10 feet for television screens (depending on the size of the screen)
  • Two feet for desktop computer screens or laptops
  • One foot for mobile phones

Summary

Playing video games can affect vision. Gaming for a long time can lead to eye strain, eye irritation, and even computer vision syndrome.

Kids can get so into a game they're playing that they forget to take breaks or take other steps to avoid eyestrain, like sitting with proper posture. Also, if kids play video games in a dark room, it can hurt their eyes.

There are ways to reduce eye strain from video games. Setting guidelines for your children will help prevent the negative effects of prolonged video gameplay on their eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can video games cause permanent eye damage?

    Playing video games for a long time without taking breaks can affect vision and may even lead to "computer vision syndrome." However, these changes to your vision usually are not permanent and can be reduced and avoided by taking steps to prevent eye strain while gaming.

  • Can you get eye strain from playing video games?

    Using screens for a long time without taking breaks can cause eye strain. The effect can be worse if you're looking at a screen in a dimly lit room, have poor posture, and already have vision problems.

  • How can I protect my eyes while gaming?

    One of the best ways to protect your eyes while playing video games is by taking breaks. It also helps to make sure you're playing in a well-lit room and not sitting too close to the screen.

  • How many hours of gaming is too much?

    Eye health experts recommend not playing video games for more than three hours in a single day. That said, children may need to play for less time to avoid eye problems and other health effects of too much gaming.

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