Digital communication has become an integral part of daily life. Smartphones and tablets are pocket-sized personal assistants with appointment reminders, news and a means of keeping in touch with family and friends. Living multi-screen lives may aide productivity, but eye health professionals are increasingly worried about the consequences of “digital vision.”
Over the past two years, time spent with digital devices has increased 49 percent, according to data from online measurement firm comScore. Handheld devices are leading the way: time using smartphones jumped 90 percent and tablets surged 64 percent.
However, some studies suggest all that time squinting at the phone may cause users to squint at everything else. Research housed through the Vision Impact Institute has shown that myopia (nearsightedness) is rapidly rising in East Asia, Europe and the United States, especially among younger people. Research is pointing to factors other than genetics, such as behavior and environment, as the cause of this epidemic of shortsightedness. The common denominator among these populations seems to be time spent using digital devices.
While not seeing distances clearly can be frustrating, even dangerous when driving, it can be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses and refractive surgery. However, high myopia has been associated with a greater risk for ocular disorders, including retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.
“We’re good about getting the annual physical and dental check-up, but often we aren’t as diligent about seeing the eye doctor once a year,” said Maureen Cavanagh, president of the Vision Impact Institute. “As we turn more and more of our daily routines over to digital devices, we need to place a greater emphasis on scheduling regular eye exams to correct problems such as myopia and monitor for associated risks.”
In addition, Cavanagh points to several small steps all digital users can take to make their devices healthier for their eyes:
Make sure the settings are adequate - increase screen font size and improve the contrast. Always use good lighting but avoid glare on small screens.
Exercise your eyes just as you exercise your body. Every few minutes, look up from the screen and focus on something in the distance. This exercise helps prevent eye strain and uses more of your ocular muscles. And don’t forget to take breaks occasionally.
Get outside. Sunshine can be the antidote to digital vision, according to some research. While the sun’s role isn’t completely understood, an Australian study showed that children who spent more time outside playing in natural light had a lower rate of myopia. In China, schools are experimenting with classrooms made of transparent materials to help stem the nation’s epidemic of shortsightedness in young people.
Regardless of your age or how many digital devices you have, taking care of your eyes helps prevent vision problems and protects your overall eye health. Learn more at visionimpactinstitute.org.