Sitting too close to the television (or computer, for that matter) may not cause permanent eye damage, but it definitely can cause eyestrain (as many office workers can tell you after a long day staring at their computer screens).

So where did your mom’s nagging about how bad it is to sit too close to the TV come from?

sitting close to the TVTurns out that back in the day, when television first entered many American homes in the 1960s, General Electric copped to the fact that, due to a factory error, many of its televisions were emitting X-rays.

GE later corrected the problem, but at the time, health officials warned against letting children sit too close to the television for too long because they could be exposed to the harmful rays. Though the problem was corrected, the fear of harmful emissions from the television was never fully resolved, and the motherly warnings continue even today.

So is there any other damage that can be caused by watching too much television at too close a range?

Possibly. Also in the 1960s, a controversial study of Alaskan Eskimos showed that myopia, or nearsightedness, was much more prevalent in the younger generations of Eskimos — i.e. those who had recently been exposed to modern civilization. This study raised the claim from many experts that environmental factors can affect our vision. Watching too much television, staring at the computer screen or our smartphones — these were all factors that could lead to our increased nearsightedness as a civilization.

Even though everyone may not agree on whether sitting too close to the television actually damages your eyes, almost everyone agrees that watching too much television at close range can cause eyestrain. So can sitting too close to your computer, or reading in dim light.

Symptoms of eyestrain include headache, watery eyes, itching or burning eyes, light sensitivity, and blurry vision.

So what can you do to prevent eyestrain?

Well, for one, make sure you take “eye breaks.” That means not watching too much TV at one time, or letting your eyes rest from your computer screen for 5 minutes during the workday. (No, checking Facebook doesn’t count.) Why not get up, stretch your legs, and go for a quick stroll around the office?

Another thing you can do is to get your eyes checked or update your eyeglass prescription if need be. Appropriate eyewear can make a world of a difference in your comfort. When I first learned to drive, I thought it was completely normal to squint to see street signs. They’re far away, right? Then I got glasses, and boy, did it make a difference. (I’m sure the other drivers on the road were grateful for the change too.)

Also, you can make a conscious effort to blink more often. Blinking helps lubricate your eyes and prevent them from getting too dried out.

There are more things you can do to prevent eyestrain, including some massage techniques to try.

As far as your kids go, even if watching television won’t hurt they eyes, it might rot their brains (at least that’s what my dad told me). So why not get outside with them for a bit instead of watching another hour of Nickelodeon? After all, it’s spring and the weather’s getting nice!

Inset photo: courosa/Flickr

MNN tease illustration of TV: Shutterstock
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