The last few decades have seen an explosion of technological innovation and a dazzling array of new personal digital devices in every household. While there are enormous upsides to this new technology, there are some significant drawbacks to consider. A major one is that increased screen time is hard on the eyes and can lead to serious long-term problems. Myopia, or nearsightedness, is rising at an epidemic rate. In the 1970s, just 20% of Americans were nearsighted. Now it is nearly 50%, and it is clear our increased digital media consumption is the most significant driving force behind it.
The problems associated with this phenomenon go far beyond merely the blurry vision that we fix with corrective lenses. As an eye becomes myopic, or nearsighted, it lengthens. This stretching of the eyeball leads to a thinning of the tissues inside the eye, posing real health risks. Nearsighted individuals have a significantly higher chance of developing a multitude of eye problems such as retinal detachments, glaucoma, or intraocular bleeding.
Children are the most at-risk group in this myopia epidemic. Their developing eyes are vulnerable to the multitude of environmental factors changing around them. Our culture is increasingly revolving around social media and smartphones, schools are moving away from textbooks in favor of tablet learning, and Netflix binges are replacing outdoor play. While it seems there is no way to avoid digital device use realistically, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has put forth several recommendations to mitigate the risk. A distillation of some of the key points:
- Practice the “20/20/20 Rule”. For every 20 minutes of near work, look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Encourage frequent breaks. Setting a timer or marking chapters in a book to serve as a reminder to give the eyes a rest.
- Encourage reading a physical book instead of an e-reader or tablet. If using a digital device, ensure that the screen brightness and contrast are comfortable, and the screen is free of glare from outside light sources.
- Be wary of working distance. Digital media ideally should be held between 18 to 24 inches from the eyes. Holding things too closely can accelerate myopia progression.
We would be remiss if we did not stress the importance of yearly eye exams, especially in children. Closely monitoring any emerging vision problems is of utmost importance to promote better learning and performance in school and overall child development. “Myopia control” is a blossoming area of study, and new techniques are emerging and being successfully employed in cases where a rapid progression of nearsightedness is a concern. Our doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida can assist with this among many other eye issues, to schedule an appointment call 800-282-3937 or visit us online at www.EYESFL.com.
Dr. Daniel Smith is an optometrist at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida’s Clermont location.