Increased Screen Time Can Increase Nearsightedness Risk for Kids

myopia_computers

A panel of US ophthalmology experts has suggested that too much time in front of a computer screen, a lack of time outside, and the use of other technological devices may be raising children’s risk for nearsightedness, also known as myopia.

The prevalence of myopia in Americans has almost doubled over the last 50 years, noted the ophthalmologists. They feel this is because of focusing on something that is close and not spending enough time outdoors in sunlight, writes Julianne Cuba for HealthDay.

“Kids are spending much more time doing indoor activities with their cellphones, iPads, computers, and so on,” said Dr. Rohit Varma, director of the University of Southern California Eye Institute in Los Angeles.

When young children are spending time playing games indoors, they are not only looking at things very close to them but also tend to do so in inadequate light. The combination of both is contributing to the kids becoming nearsighted, said Varma.

The panel consisted of 10 ophthalmology experts who gathered at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s (AAO) annual meeting in Las Vegas. Information shared at this meeting is not considered to be authenticated until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. K. David Epley, a spokesman for the AAO, said anyone can develop myopia, but it is more frequent in those whose parents are nearsighted. He also noted that the condition is more widespread in industrialized and urban areas than in rural regions.

Young people of East Asian descent have a genetic predisposition to myopia, but the rates may be increasing even more because of children’s daily habits. In China, 90% of young people suffer from nearsightedness compared to only 10 to 20% of kids sixty years ago, according to the experts. In the US, 42% of 12- to 54-year-olds are affected, as reported in an earlier study.

The high rate of children in China with myopia may be due to the hours they spend doing close-up work – up to 12 hours a day – compared to their US peers who spend about nine hours a day on close activity.

The experts agreed that although reading should be encouraged in children, too many hours of straight reading without looking up from the page can be harmful to the eyes. They suggested that kids take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and use that time to look at something far away, writes Donald Acosta for International Business Times.

Even though studies have not shown that dim lighting is injurious to a person’s vision, experts do agree that working in such a setting requires more visual accommodation and focus, both of which strain the eyes. Although nearsightedness is not preventable or reversible, it is possible that its progression can be slowed. Epley wants parents to make sure their children have a bright light for reading.

If it is difficult for a child to get enough outside time, having large glass windows that allow plenty of natural light into the home is the next best thing.

Tech website Quartz reports that Indonesians spend nine hours a day in front of screens and Americans spend 7.4 hours. Because of these many hours on the computer or any other device, an increasing number of people are bothered by irritated eyes, headaches, and having trouble reading small fonts.

These are all typical symptoms of “computer vision syndrome,” reports New Zealand’s Stuff. The site says that many screens emit high-energy visible light (HEV) that could be injuring techies’ eyes. HEV light is produced from light with short wavelengths. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to HEV light may damage retina tissue causing damage similar to that caused by macular degeneration.

Critics of this theory argue that this same type of light is emitted from the sun and LED light bulbs. Also, the amount of HEV light is dependent on the model of the screen, the size of the screen, its brightness, how far away it is located, and how long a person is in front of it.