There can be no doubt that all of us, especially children, are doing hand held work more frequently and more intently than ever before. All you have to do is look around any restaurant, doctor's waiting room, or mini-van, and you will see people of all ages do this. They are reading, playing hand held video games such as the Nintendo 3DS or the PSP, or using their iPhone or Blackberry to watch videos and keep in touch with others.
All of this technology is great, but it can come with a cost - visual discomfort that can interfere with proper vision.
In addition to using proper posture and taking frequent visual breaks from intensely focusing up closely, another important element is how close a person is to the object they are looking at in their hands. A good way to tell if it is the right distance is by using the "Elbow Distance" rule.
Research on human ergonomics has determined that the optimal visual distance for reading and other close work is the Harmon Distance or "Elbow Distance". This distance is measured by placing a closed fist at the eyes. The point at the end of the elbow represents the closest distance a person should be from their near work.
The beauty of applying Elbow Distance is that as we grow, so do our arms. You would expect a child to hold objects closer to his face than an adult. So instead of a "one size fits some" rule of a certain number of inches, the "Elbow Distance" can apply to almost everyone. Go ahead and try it on yourself now and see if you hold a magazine or cellphone at your Elbow Distance or a little further.
Some people get so absorbed in their games or reading that when they get very close to their work, they are placing undue stress on their vision. I am also very guilty of this. When I get 4 to 5 inches from what I'm writing, my eyes have to work harder to keep the words clear because of the close distance. But if I keep the right distance, the visual system relaxes and performs more efficiently - and I can really tell a difference.
If children or adults frequently get extremely close to their books or games, this may just be a bad habit. But it can also be sign of a visual problem. Either way, it is best to get an exam performed by an eye doctor who specializes in visual efficiency. They can determine if there is a problem and if glasses or vision therapy might be needed.
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area and New Tampa.