Dr Judith Lavrich and Jordan Hamburger Discuss the Impact of Virtual Learning on Children's Eye Health

Judith Lavrich, MD, and Jordan Hamburger outline findings from their research on virtual school and children's eye health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children were spending significantly more time looking at screens, said Judith Lavrich, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University and ophthalmologist at Wills Eye Hospital Department of Pediatric Ophthalmology, and Jordan Hamburger, a fourth-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Lavrich and Hamburger's study, "The Visual Consequences of Virtual School: Acute Eye Symptoms in Healthy Children," was presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's 2021 conference.


Can you introduce yourselves and explain the work you do?

Lavrich: My name is Judith Lavrich. I'm a clinical assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University and Wills Eye Hospital Department of Pediatric Ophthalmology.

Hamburger: My name is Jordan Hamburger, I'm a fourth-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at the Thomas Jefferson University.

How did you carry out your study on the visual consequences of virtual school and acute eye symptoms in healthy children? Can you explain the main findings?

Lavrich: Well, let me start with a background. During COVID-19, many pediatric ophthalmologists, including myself, and many of my colleagues from Wills Eye Hospital, were experiencing children coming in with many eye-related complaints. And these were healthy children that had started virtual school. In 30 years of my experience, I have never seen so many complaints from digital use previously. Digital use has been out there, but not to the extent that it was during COVID-19. So these children were spending significantly much more time on the digital screen. They were coming in with lots of eye complaints. So we decided to see if that was a reality and we decided to conduct a study to see if healthy kids were, in fact, having more complaints than normal. That's how we started this whole thing in the beginning. We wanted to answer whether the increased screen time was really the reason for the symptomatology increase. Jordan, I'll have you go ahead and describe the study.

Hamburger: Yeah, so we recruited over 110 healthy children from the community. We recruited them via social media, via pediatric ophthalmologist offices, and just also friends of families. All these students were enrolled in 1 day of virtual school per week at least. And we were able to assess their symptomatology from virtual school by giving them a survey before school and afterwards to see if there was any symptom increase from their virtual school time.

Lavrich: What we found from the study, we found surprising that over the course of 1 virtual school day, that ranged 3 to 10 hours, that we could detect the rise in significant eye symptoms. We found that 61% of healthy children had complaints directly related to their binocularity, or teaming of their vision, and 53% of healthy children had complaints related to ocular surface discomfort during the time of virtual school. It was also surprising to us that we found that the binocularity complaints were directly proportional to the amount of time spent on digital learning.