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How Our Vision Is Changing More Rapidly with Technology

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Reviewed by Nymark M, PhD on November 1, 2016

The average American spends nine hours every day using a screen, be that a television, computer, tablet, or cellphone. The nonprofit trade association, Vision Council, has reported that this is causing a range of vision problems, including eye strain.

Existing Research

Over 7,000 people were surveyed for the Vision Council’s report, and they found that the time people spend before a screen is increasing, for both adults and children. In fact, there was a 4% rise in the number of people admitting to being in front of computer screens 10 hours per day. As a result of this, some 70% of adults in this country suffer from digital eye strain. Additionally, those aged between 18 to 34 had a 45% higher rate of strain than older participants.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the average child in this country is in front of a screen for over eight hours every day. They also believe that this will only increase as they grow older. Today’s generation is believed to be the first one that has spent their entire lives looking at screens. Experts point out that this can lead to a variety of different eye health problems.

Another piece of research has been completed by the American Optometric Association, which has released the 2015 American Eye-Q Survey. What this demonstrate is that 41% of all children now spend at least three hours per day on digital technology. Additionally, 66% of all children own a tablet or smartphone.

It is a known fact that the electronic devices in use today give off violet and blue, short wavelength, high energy light. While research is ongoing, it is believed that this type of light may prematurely age the eyes, as well as affecting vision. Blue light in particular can lead to eye discomfort and strain and can even precipitate more serious conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which in turn can lead to blindness.

New research is also taking place into the effects of the ever increasing numbers of hours that children spend using technology instead of being outside. It is believed that children now are more likely to be vitamin D deficient due to spending so much time indoors. This, in turn, can affect the development and growth of vision and eyes. This may be one of the reasons why more and more young people are now being diagnosed with nearsightedness or myopia. This is believed to be due to the fact that the eyes continue to develop between the ages of five and 13, including the distance between the retina and the lens.

The Problems Caused by Staring at Screens

Staring at a screen for a long time is known to cause a range of potential problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Infrequent blinking, leading to dry eyes
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Long term vision problems

There is some evidence to demonstrate that staring at screens for long periods of time can actually change vision significantly. In fact, it can increase rates of nearsightedness.

Some of the most common eye problems believed to be related to increased exposure to technology include:

  1. Computer vision syndrome, which is caused by using computer, tablet, and cellphone screens. It can lead to headaches, eyestrain, watery eyes, burning eyes, itchy eyes, difficulties focusing, double vision, dry eyes, blurry vision in nearby and distant objects alike, and photophobia (sensitivity to light). These symptoms can be anything from mild to severe. It is caused by insufficient blinking, using unfavorable angles, and being too close to the screen.
  2. Retina damage, which is particularly dangerous for people who take their electronics devices to bed with them, with 60% of Americans admitting that they do. Retinal damage can occur to blue light exposure in the dark.
  3. Cataracts, although further research must take place in the possible link between blue light and cataracts. What is known, however, is that cataracts were once something that happened only in the elderly, but is now also common in those who are in their mid-30s.
  4. Eye relate issues, including headaches, dry eyes, and blurry vision

The Effects of Technology on the Vision of Children

As a result of overexposure to screens in children, they now require a comprehensive eye examination every year before school starts. Technology is integral to the lives of children, both in school and in their social life. The prediction is that by 2028, those children who entered kindergarten in 2015, schools will provide instruction using computer simulations, and even use virtual worlds as part of the curriculum. Technology is, by and large, a positive thing that improves learning, but obviously, the long term effects cannot yet be determined.

How to Solve the Problem

Researchers have found a simple solution to the potential vision problems that are occurring as a result of increased exposure to technology: walking away from it. It is vital that people take breaks and teach themselves to blink again. One positive development in the world of technology is that there are now numerous apps available that remind people to take these breaks, even going so far as completely blacking out a screen. Other kinds of technology, such as filters and screen protectors are equally important, as they help to reduce glare. The most important thing is that people take a 10 minute break from staring at a screen every hour as a minimum.

It is equally important that caregivers know how to recognize digital eye strain in children. This causes kids to experience head and neck pain, double vision, blurred vision, loss of focus, fatigue, headaches, and tired, itchy, or burning eyes. It is a caregiver’s responsibility to protect children’s health, which is why they should encourage the practice of the 20-20-20 rule. This means that for every 20 minutes of using a screen, you should stare at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Every school year, children should be provided with a comprehensive eye examination as well. In fact, it is now recommended that parents take their child to an optometrist when they are just six months old, to be repeated when they are three, and then annually. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s Pediatric Essential Health Benefit, it is now possible to do this at no cost.

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