Children are spending more time in front of screens than ever before. Between online learning, socializing with friends, playing games and watching videos, this can lead to upwards of 8 hours of screen time a day. As a result, many children are experiencing headaches.

Dr. Marc DiSabella, a neurologist at Children’s National Hospital, says he’s seen a spike in complaints about headaches since the school year began. To learn more about the possible connection between headaches and online learning, he and his colleagues sent a survey to all patients seen in Children’s National clinics throughout the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. Although they’ll be gathering more data in the coming months, they found these results based on the first 36 responses:

  • 44% are using screens more than 6 hours a day
  • 42% have a constant headache that never goes away, compared to 18% pre-pandemic
  • 41% had worsening of headaches since the pandemic began
  • 38% of feel more stressed since the pandemic began
  • 47% prefer in person schooling to virtual learning
  • 42% feel screens are making their headaches worse
  • 58% say they sometimes or very often need to take screen breaks due to worsening headaches

Eliminating screen-induced headaches

If your child is experiencing screen-induced headaches, try doing the following to help.

  • Print out homework. Use paper when possible to limit time in front of computer.
  • Take frequent screen breaks. Try following the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and look 20 feet away or beyond.
  • Skip the blue light filtering glasses. There’s no evidence that they protect the eyes.
  • Structure your child’s day. A lack of structure is often tied to headaches and pain. Keep sleep schedules, exercise and screen time consistent.
  • Reduce stress. Stress often causes headaches. Help your child reduce stress by encouraging them to exercise and practice mindfulness.
  • Drink water! Dehydration can cause headaches so make sure your child has a water bottle nearby when they’re online.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marc DiSabellaMarc DiSabella, DO, is Program Director of the Child Neurology Fellowship; Medical Director of Neurology Education; and Director of the Headache Program at Children's National. His interests lie in the treatment of pediatric migraines and its related disorders through the use of lifestyle modification and behavioral strategies, in addition to oral, nasal and intravenous medications.

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