Did your parents warn you not to sit too close to the television when you were growing up because it would hurt your eyes?

English: American family watching TV (cropped)

American family watching TV (cropped) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mine did. Two feet was still too close in their opinion, which, for my brothers and me, was just the right distance for lying on the floor in front of the tv watching Saturday morning cartoons

It turns out, there was some radiation emitted from the televisions of our childhood, in the 1950s, because cathode ray tubes (CRTs) worked by having an electron gun shoot at a fluorescent screen.

It was the radiation hazard, not eyestrain, that prompted the need to sit back from the television.

In the 1960s, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) started paying attention to the excessive radiation emitted from some television sets and wrote performance standards setting the maximum levels allowed and monitoring them.

Since the 1960s, two things have changed.

The radiation emitted has been reduced to about what you’d get if you had your lungs x-rayed and now, the electron gun technology of CRTs is largely being displaced by Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) or plasma screens that are bigger, lighter, cheap enough to be within reach of most who want a television, and do not emit any radiation.

While there is no evidence that television or computer screen watching causes long-term eye damage, that is not to say it’s a good idea to sit close to a television or computer screen.

There is still the risk of eyestrain. But, unlike our parents’ warning that we would ruin our eyes, eyestrain is temporary and easily remedied.

Look away from the screen. Get up and walk around. Look at far-away objects for a few minutes.

I look out the window at trees whenever I notice my eyes starting to get tired, since I am in front of a computer screen all day.

I also get up for 5 to 10 minutes every hour and a half, break for lunch and take a 20-minute break in the middle of the afternoon.

And, I give myself a day and a half away from the computer on weekends.

It’s particularly noticeable for me because I had lasik surgery more than ten years ago and only one eye is focused on reading, so, it gets no relief from the other eye when I scan the screen.

The American Academy of Pediatricians already recommends limiting screen time, whether computer or television, to under two hours for children, because more than two hours affects brain development and has been linked to obesity.

Thanks to pediatricians, Drs. Aaron E. Carroll and Rachel C. Vreeman for updating us on televisions and eyestrain, and busting this health myth in their book, Don’t Cross Your Eyes…They’ll Get Stuck That Way.

You can order their book at amazon by clicking on the title, “Don’t Cross Your Eyes.”


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”



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