We don’t have to tell you that we’re living in an age of handheld devices, with screens indeed appearing everywhere. The explosion of these mobile devices and their seemingly overwhelming effect on society at large – particularly over the last few years – has resulted in a complete paradigm shift with regard to how information, entertainment and more are absorbed.
Take, for example, the growing trend of millennials who prefer viewing motion pictures on a vertically-oriented handheld phone rather than going to the actual theater and watching them on a massive wall-to-wall screen (as they were originally intended to be viewed). This evolving phenomenon, in fact, is so widespread and popular that electronics giant Samsung recently unveiled plans to launch a vertically-oriented television that mimics the look, feel and presentation of mobile phones – and the company has gone as far as labeling these youth-driven products as “lifestyle items specifically geared toward millennials.”
Some see this technological revolution from the perspective of the flip side of that coin… that along with this flood of technology has come a “simpler” life: At the push of a cell phone’s button, meals can easily be ordered, household items can be delivered to our doorsteps and video chats with family members across the country or even the world can be realized in the blink of an eye. We’re also seeing this shift in the working world, as many professions have since evolved to rely on programs accessed via laptops and tablets, not just desktop computers, with a number of education platforms in schools revolving around the internet now, as well.
Individuals riding the wave of this technological tsunami argue that spending a myriad of time in front of screens today is unavoidable, but the real questions should be: how much time is actually being spent in front of these devices, and how are these devices ultimately affecting our eyesight?
Is Too Much Screen Time Harming Children’s Vision?
With the alarming rise of children spending more time tethered to screens – just look around you the next time you’re at a restaurant or shopping center and note all the youngsters staring into a mobile device – comes the increasing concern about potential harm to their visual development. Eye doctors are seeing a marked increase in children reporting dry eyes and eye strain from extended screen time.
Matossian Fact Corner: Children have increased their time spent with digital devices over the past five years. In a recent study, children under 2 were shown to spend approximately 42 minutes per day with screen media, while those age 2-4 were reported to spend about two hours and 40 minutes daily. Children age 5-8 were reported to spend almost three hours per day staring into some type of screen.
As children are being sent back to school everywhere in the fall for more time in front of screens, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is arming parents with the facts so they can make informed choices about their children’s eye health. Here’s what you need to know, however: There is no doubt that most computer users experience digital eye strain, and kids are no different from their adult counterparts when it comes to such a condition. They, too, can experience dry eye, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision, and while such symptoms are typical of a temporary nature, they may be frequent and persistent.
Statistics show that the older children get, the more time they spend using screens in the form of televisions, laptops or cell phones. U.S. kids between 8 and 12 years of age (the “tween” demographic) spend, according to research obtained by Matossian eye doctor associates, six hours a day consuming media, while those between 13 and 18 (teens) consume digital media for about nine hours a day (the phrase “consuming media” here refers to everything from watching television to playing video games, listening to music and checking social media accounts). Some teens have even reported checking their social media accounts as much as 100 times a day, a shocking stat that appears to be the nation’s average…and growing.
Matossian Fact Corner: Some 67 percent of teens own a smartphone, 53 percent of teens own a tablet and countless more have access to televisions or laptops.
Still, while all of this doesn’t necessarily mean that children require a prescription for glasses when using the computer, or that they may develop an eye condition more commonly associated with middle-aged adults that demands reading glasses, it is imperative that we all take more frequent screen breaks. Because we don’t blink as often while using computers and other digital devices such as phones, ophthalmologists recommend taking a 20-second break from such activities every 20 minutes.
At the Core: How Screen Time Affects Vision
If you find that you have a “screen addiction,” as so many people around the world have reported, your eyes may definitely be paying the price. According to a Washington Post survey, 50 percent of teens admit they feel “addicted” to their mobile phones and 27 percent of their parents admit they can’t put down their smartphones either.
Think about all the screens we view daily: Smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, gaming systems, and that flashy, super-bright 65-inch LED TV hanging in the living room. Is it any surprise that 50 percent of people who work in front of a computer screen experience a condition we refer to as Digital Eye Strain?
Common symptoms of Digital Eye Strain include:
- Eye fatigue
- Dry eye
- Irritated/itchy eyes
- Red eyes
These symptoms are believed to be caused by overexposure to high-energy visible light, or “blue light” emitted by digital devices, and these waves penetrate deep into the eyes to create a glaring effect. This, in turn, results in the aforementioned irritation and strain. While eye care specialists can treat the symptoms of digital eye strain, there are no studies as of yet that can prove long-term damage. But in the meantime, a simple principle of moderation can lead to wisdom with regard to how we use electronics in our personal communications, careers, and hobbies.
Nutritional Intervention and Beyond
It is a popular belief amongst many people that failing eyesight is an inevitable result of aging or eye strain, but the truth is that a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of eye health problems.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) published in 2001 found that certain nutrients – zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene – may reduce the risk of age-related decline in vision health by a whopping 25 percent. The study was updated in 2013 to test different variants of the original formula, with such variations including omega-3 fatty acids, zeaxanthin, lutein, and beta carotene, and the study concluded that these are essential for eye health.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of Digital Eye Strain that we discussed in the article, please contact Matossian Eye Associates to schedule an appointment, (800) 708-8800 or online at MatossianEye.com.