Is Technology Ruining Your Eyes? The Answer May Surprise You!

During class discussion a few weeks back, I casually commented that I have noticed more and more young people wearing glasses recently, and that increased use of personal electronics may be the cause.  But is there concrete evidence of this observation? I decided to do some research and find out.

As it turns out, there is substantial evidence that increased use of technology is hurting our eyes.

The average American spends upwards of nine hours every day looking at screens of computers, tablets, or cell phones, and all this screen time is taking a toll on our optical health.  Data also shows that the amount of kids and adults spending more than ten hours a day on screens is rising at a rate of 4% per year.  This data was collected by The Vision Council, a non-profit trade association that has done substantial research on this matter.

istock000018928325large

All in all, their research has shown that such extended periods of screen time have been causing eye strain, which itself has a variety of symptoms. And its not just the academics who trust this research.  See below a quote from Douglas Lazzaro, MD, professor and chairman in the Department of Ophthalmology at SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The longer you look at a computer screen, the more eye strain you tend to have, which can cause headaches. We also tend to blink a lot less when we’re looking at a screen, and when we blink less, we dry out our eyes.

As a result, it is clear that extended use of digital technology can cause users to develop symptoms that range from dry eyes, sore eyes, and double vision all the way to headaches, fatigue, and sore neck.  Some doctors like Dr. Jacqueline Busingye, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, think the issue may be even more serious, and believe that excessive screen use may lead to long term eye problems.

But are young people really more likely to have these problems?

Once again, the answer is yes, as data has shown that these issues are disproportionately affecting children and young adults. Data from the Vision Center shows that while the portion of adults suffering from eye strain is almost 70 percent, the portion of adults aged 18 to 34 report eye strain at a 45 percent higher rate than the older demographics.  Similarly, research from the National Eye Institute has shown that people with 12 or more years of formal education are 59.8 percent more likely to develop myopia, the medical term for nearsightedness.

Further research from the NEI confirmed that the prevalence of nearsightedness in Americans has increased more than 66 percent over the past 30 years, and pediatric eye doctors believe that children are especially susceptible to myopia. To me, this seems to be the most important revelation.  In passing, I happened to notice more kids with glasses than adults, and it turns out that my observation really is emblematic of a larger, statistically proven issue.

So why is this the case?

The simple answer is to say that kids spend more time on technology so they are more susceptible to eye strain, but this doesn’t tell the whole picture.  In reality, children are more likely to suffer from eye problems for several reasons.

The first reason is the immaturity of a child’s mind.  While adults may have the sense to take short breaks during extended use of digital devices, kids do not have this self control.  Accordingly, children are much more likely to stare at screens for hours on end with little to no rest for their eyes.  In addition, kids are very adaptable, so they may not even be aware of any optical issues they are having, and therefore will continue to worsen their optical health.

child-with-glasses-funny-750x410

The physical bodies of children can also make technology more harmful to their eyes because of their height.  Doctors say that computers should ideally be viewed at a 15 degree angle downward.  However, kids using technology will often look upward at the screen, causing more eye strain and neck damage.  On top of that, children’s eyes themselves are more susceptible to eye strain.  See below a quote from Barbara L. Horn, O.D., Trustee for the American Optometric Association.

A child’s eyes are still changing between the ages of 5 and 13 years old. Therefore, during this time, the distance between the lens and the retina is also still changing. When the distance between the two lengthens, we see an increase in the instances of nearsightedness.

Scientists and optometrists also believe that children may be developing nearsightedness at higher rates because of a lack of exposure to natural light.  Exposure to natural sunlight is crucial for the proper development and growth of the eyes, and natural light helps to make the distance between the retina and the lens smaller.  Naturally, as children spend more time up close and personal with electronic devices, they are avoiding exposure to natural sunlight outdoors.

Alas! We must forbid our children from using these treacherous devices! Or not…

Experts say that most of these problems can be solved using restraint, self control, and moderation, much like how health experts have informed us for years of the importance of portion control in one’s diet. See below a few useful tips that could significantly improve your optical health.

  1. Use the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away
  2. Enhance your ergonomics: Make sure your computer is positioned directly in front of you, that you are looking down at a 15 degree angle, and that you do not view the screen closer than 18 inches.
  3. Have the right lighting: Adjust room lighting to match your computer brightness.  This will help to reduce glare.
  4. Invest in a high quality monitor: A higher resolution monitor is easier on your eyes.

Thank you very much for reading my latest blog.  Now please go and take a 20 second break!

9 comments

  1. Great post – this is something that I’ve noticed with my own vision for a while, so I’m glad to see the research backs it up. After a long day of looking at my computer screen I notice a significant difference in my eyesight – it becomes difficult/painful to focus on a screen, and my long distance vision is distorted. Strain is just the right word – and for me it translates to blurred vision and headaches. There’s a Google Chrome extension that I use called Flux (https://justgetflux.com/) that I’ve found helps a lot. It automatically adjusts the amount of blue light emitted from your computer screen throughout the day- so at night it essentially turns my screen a ‘warm’ orange-ish color thats much easier on the eyes. It makes sense that younger children who are growing up glued to screens throughout their physical development- from TV to iPads- will have increased vision problems relative to older generations – maybe flux or a similar technology could help slowdown that trend.

  2. Really nice post. It seems that the fear that my grandfather had about me watching TV so many years ago may have finally come true.

  3. Nice post, I think your takeaways are probably good advice for all heavy technology users. When you mentioned this in class a few weeks a guy, it made me think of parents/grandparents telling me when I was a kid that the my generation would have significant problems because of the amount of TV we watched and especially because of console video games. I think your argument is logical, but I’d always be a little cautious about a trade organization’s findings, I can’t imagine they are likely to conclude that fewer people need eyewear. Having said that, the American Optometric Association’s statistics seem to agree. Great post!

    1. *a few weeks *ago

  4. Awesome post! I haven’t personally noticed the prevalence of glasses among kids, but after reading your post, the conclusion definitely makes sense to me. I already wear glasses / contacts, but it scares me to think that the 8+ hours I spend per day on my computer at work and the countless hours I spend on my phone / laptop are having such a negative impact on my sight. It will be interesting to see if the greater need for vision correction leads to advances in vision surgery procedures rather than restrictions on time spent on digital devices.

  5. Great blog post and great ending! I know I personally have a headache after looking at a screen for too long, and I found myself having to wear my glasses to work rather than contacts so that my eyes would hurt less. This makes total sense now because staring at a computer screen causes my eyes to dry out, alas making my contacts hurt. Your post also concerned me about people who look at screens all day, specifically my younger cousins. Everywhere they go, even restaurants, it seems they have a screen glued to their face. I think while it makes sense logically for younger children to spend less time on screens, I personally don’t see moderation or restraint being enforced.

  6. Interesting post! When we were young, our parents used to tell us not to read in the dark because it causes eye strain. I wonder if parents realize this applies to technology usage, and are warning their kids of that. I’m curious how the technology generation’s health problems will evolve over time–maybe trigger thumb from texting or neck pain from looking down at a phone?

    I’ve also heard of mid-vision glasses that are designed for reading a computer screen–which is further than a book, but still close. With that, and lighting adjustments like @duffyfallon mentioned, I wonder how that will impact eye strain going forward.

  7. I’m really glad you did the research on this! My eyesight has absolutely gotten worse since coming to college and I always think it has to do with the amount of time I have spent looking at a screen (which has increased since high school where I didn’t have a laptop at school and was busy after school). It does interest me that the higher resolution screens are supposedly better for your eyes, and I wonder if over time, as technology and resolutions improve, if maybe this strain will decrease and we will see less of this problem. Overall, I try to spend some time away from the screen when I feel my head starting to hurt, and I think that 20-20 rule is a good one to follow.

  8. Great post! I actually adjusted my computer screens as I read this…I definitely feel this eye strain every day as well. I’m always grabbing between my eyes to try to release some of the tension. It’s crazy that there’s not really any solution to this yet, but I guess instead we just advance our eye care options with things like Lasik. I’m glad you shared this post because I think a lot of us, myself included, need to be reminded how much time we spend in front of screens and how much damage it can really do. Also, I love your photo of the little girl with glasses :)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: