By Maria Pribis, OD
An interesting eye health story recently made its way onto NBC Nightly News. The segment entitled Kids’ Eyes Aged by Intense Use of Tablets & Phones tells of a Minnesota teenager who spends nearly 8-hours a day using a smartphone. As a result, this particular teen has been having trouble taking exams at school and has developed Dry Eye Disease (DED).
In describing the effects of smartphone overuse, Dr. Ralph Chu states (in the video), “… you see this (DED) commonly in people who are in their 50’s & 60’s, but now with children who are using their smartphones a lot, we’re seeing this more and more.”
In my opinion, if smartphone overuse in young people isn’t contained somehow, we may be faced with a future dry eye epidemic to go along with myopia.
Smartphone Overuse in Teens:
Prior to smartphones, parents weren’t too concerned about long-term visual health effects in their children. Today, it’s a whole different ballgame.
As an eye care professional, I’m constantly bombarded with questions from parents who are concerned with the smartphone habits of their children.
Some of these questions include:
What are the risks of smartphone overuse?
How can I explain the risks to my child?
What are some possible solutions?
The eye health risks of smartphone overuse include:
Dry Eye Disease: As explained in the NBC Nightly News video (link above), DED occurs frequently in older patients, but it’s now becoming common in children. This means children are aging their eyes through smartphone overuse.
Questionable Progression of Myopia: More research needs to be done on the correlation between smartphone overuse and the recent surge of nearsightedness, but it’s undoubtedly a common assumption.
Excess Exposure to Blue Light: It is thought that excess exposure to blue light may lead to age related macular degeneration. Today, there are several blue light blocking options such as Night Shift (for your iPhone).
Since many children are too young to understand the scientific consequences of smartphone overuse, it may be hard for them to take the risks seriously. In this case, it may be best to use a common sense approach.
For example, smartphone overuse may lead to:
Depression, anxiety, and/or boredom: Constantly checking social media feeds can lead to a depressed state. Constantly checking the news can lead to anxiety. And a constant state of stimulation can lead to boredom without a smartphone.
Loss of imagination: Furthermore, constant stimulation from other people’s ideas can lead to a loss of personal creativity, which typically happens in times of quiet, uninterrupted thought.
Distraction: Focus is extremely important for schoolwork, athletics, extra-curricular activities, and everything else. Every time a smartphone rings or buzzes it distracts from the focus needed to attain formidable results.
In all actuality, prying a smartphone away from a young person may indeed be a useless endeavor. Let’s face it, smartphones are extremely useful and they do make life easier in just about every possible way. That said, another common sense approach would be to exercise caution.
For example, parents can suggest some basic advice from the eye doctor:
Incorporate the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet into the distance, for 20 seconds.
“Think Blink”: Every 20 minutes, close your eyes for 20 mindful seconds.
Other suggestions include:
Set Specific Time Schedules: It may be a good idea to restrict homework time to homework ONLY, or exercise time to exercise ONLY. So on and so forth.
Power Down Early: To optimize sleep, smartphones should be powered down at least an hour before bedtime. This time can be used to talk with children, read a book, or even play a game.
Do you have any suggestions about curbing smartphone use in children? Drop me a line and let me know.
Thank you to Dr. Pribis for sharing this column with WO. It was originally posted on her educational eye health site, Ocular Prime.