Optometrists have seen a dramatic jump in the number of children suffering from dry eyes and too much screen time could be to blame.

Dry eye, which happens when the eye does not produce enough tears to lubricate it, typically occurs in adults in their 50s and 60s, by eye doctors are now seeing patients as young as 10 with the condition.

And while there are no studies to show exact figures, Canadian optometrists have reported a rise anecdotally.

“There was a study done in Korea in 2016 that looked at this very issue and they’re finding that when kids are using their electronic devices they’re typically staring at them so the blink pattern becomes less frequent, their blinks are less complete,” optometrist Dr. Joseph Chan told CTV’s Your Morning.

“And so we are seeing a rise in symptoms related to dry eye in children and they’re coming into the office a little bit more regularly than they should be.”

Symptoms of dry eye include occasional feelings of dryness, itchiness, irritation or fatigue.

“The things that you need to watch out for in children are symptoms like gritty eyes, sandy tired eyes, if your child is rubbing their eyes a lot, if they’re complaining of soreness,” Dr. Chan said.

“These are the kind of indicators that there might be a larger issue, particularly with dry eye.”

Chronic dry eye can lead to damage to the surface of the eye and reduced productivity.

“When their (kids) eyes are fatigued, when they’re tired, they’re not able to do their homework and perhaps their performance in school can be affected as well,” Dr. Chan said.

If untreated, it can lead to issues ranging from constant discomfort to vision impairment.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists has screen time guidelines for children.

The association recommends no screen time at all for newborns to two years old, with the exception of video chats for the potential for social development.

Kids aged two to five should spend no more than one hour per day of educational and supervised viewing and children aged five to 18 should spend no more than two hours per day on recreational screen time.

“One of the first thing parents should be considering is taking their children to a doctor of optometry to make sure there’s no underlying eye issues,” Dr. Chan said.

He also recommended the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes the child should take a screen break and stare at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Using bigger screens, further away is better for the eyes.

“When you’re looking at a screen that’s closer the eyes have to come together which creates even more effort for the eyes,” Dr. Chan said.