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.
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.
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.
- Use the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away
- 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.
- Have the right lighting: Adjust room lighting to match your computer brightness. This will help to reduce glare.
- 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!