An epidemic of nearsightedness?
A story making the media rounds this month is that more children and young adults are being diagnosed with myopia, or nearsightedness, and smartphones might be to blame.
I couldn’t find the actual study online, but it came out of the UK where a laser eye surgeon claims there has been a 35% increase in nearsightedness–screen sightedness, he has dubbed it–since 1997. He believes smartphones are a cause, and warns that the problem will only get worse.
Without being able to see the actual study, it’s difficult to assess this claim. Perhaps as a Lasik surgeon, he is just seeing more patients comfortable with having the surgery? Perhaps more nearsighted parents are having more nearsighted children?
As far as I know, nearsightedness is an inherited, structural defect of the eye, and not caused by looking at a small screen. I’m profoundly nearsighted, and grew up well before smartphones (but not before televisions).
I think “screen sightedness” is just a new name for eyestrain.
Protecting your eyes from screen sightedness
No doubt there has been an increase in eyestrain caused by smartphones and tablets and all the other little screens in our daily lives. Symptoms of eyestrain include dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches.
Children are actually better able to focus at close distances for extended periods of time than adults, and experience less eyestrain.
Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child’s screen time (including TV, computer, game console, tablet and smartphone) to no more than 2 hours a day. I’m not sure how realistic that is, because most classrooms use computers and tablets now.
I like the 20-20-20 rule for adults and think it can be applied to children, as well: Every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
You’ve heard the saying, “Variety is the spice of life”? Well, eyes like variety.
Other good tips are to hold the smartphone or tablet at least 16 inches from your face. Most people hold their phones less than 8 inches away, and that’s too close. Also, enlarge the print if possible.
I also like the Eye Trainer smartphone app that I posted about a few months ago. It provides a five-minute “workout” for your eyes to treat and prevent eyestrain.
And yes, I get the irony of recommending a smartphone app to treat a problem caused by smartphones 🙂