Most of us can probably agree that the state of health care today is an awful lot better than it was a few decades ago. Since then, we’ve had huge strides forward – just look at laser surgery, breakthroughs in genetics, and the numerous vaccines that have been developed and improved. But even while the overall picture brightens, certain smaller spots within still have their problems.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, happens to be one of those spots. The last 30 years have seen an enormous surge in diagnoses, from 25 percent to 41.6 percent of the American population. So, what’s to blame for this uptick?
Many researchers believe that the answer might be right in front of you, perched on a desk or cradled in your hands, displaying this very article. We’re talking about digital devices. Laptops, smartphones, tablets – they’re all in the category, and they may be one of the main factors behind the surging rates of myopia.
What is Myopia?
Myopia, often called shortsightedness or nearsightedness, stems from the inability of a myopic eye to focus on objects at range. Light entering a normal eye is focused squarely on the retina, a light-sensitive membrane on the back of the eye, and part of the system that sends visual signals to the brain. In a nearsighted eye, the system’s a little out of whack and light is focused on a point in front of the retina, so by the time it actually reaches it, it’s out of true. The result is vision that, although fairly acute at short distances, gets blurry when an individual tries to perceive something further afield.
Nearsightedness has a few different causes. In most people, it results from an eye that’s physically too long. The shape affects the way in which the eye focuses light and in turn gives rise to myopia. A wide range of genetic and environmental factors (including near work) may contribute to the condition. Other forms of myopia can occur after infection, surgery, or exposure to various harmful chemicals.
Myopia is extremely common and, when diagnosed, many people just accept it as part of their life. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Nearsightedness can be treated. Glasses or contacts seem to be the norm, but they can get quite expensive and generally mean a life sentence. The easiest, safest and most natural way to treat nearsightedness is with eye vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements.
But, before it gets to the treatment stage, there are many ways in which you can prevent nearsightedness. Limiting screen time is probably the best tip we can offer you these days.
Screen Time Nation
One of the first things we need to discuss when talking about the relationship between digital devices and myopia is the sheer amount of time we spend on them. In 2009, your average American sat in front of a screen for an average of 8.5 hours a day.
Children are slightly better, but most are still estimated to catch around seven hours of daily screen time. No matter how you view those numbers, they’re incredibly high, and are very likely to rise. Classrooms are increasingly making use of tablets and laptops to teach children and recent studies have found that all of us, old and young, are spending more and more time on our mobile devices.
With that in mind, it’s less than shocking that our use of laptops, phones, and tablets is having some major effects on our health. The much-publicized American obesity epidemic is at least partly caused by the sedentary lifestyle that accompanies heavy use of devices and researchers have recently begun drawing more and more attention to the affect that they may be having on our quality of sleep. And, of course, many believe that they may be making us myopic.
Use of digital screens can cause eye problems for pretty much anybody. People who spend too much time staring at a laptop often develop Computer Vision Syndrome, a complaint characterized by dry, itchy eyes, and strained ocular muscles. However, the problem gets even worse when we’re talking about children.
Kids aren’t born with fully developed vision – instead, vision is something that develops through early and middle childhood. If many of those formative years are spent staring at a screen, a child is essentially training their eyes to focus on a near-field object. Over time, it’s possible to lose part of their ability to stop focusing on near-field objects, leaving them with permanently near-focused eyes.
The recent trend of mobile computing hasn’t exactly helped. While focusing on a television may have caused earlier generations eye trouble, smartphones and tablets have introduced new variables. First, they’re portable. Activities and times that might have normally made screen time impossible are now easily filled with it – for example, riding a bus to school. Second, phones and tablets tend to be held much closer to the face than other screens, exacerbating the near-field focus issues.
How to Help Our Children
If you’re currently concerned about a child in your life, then there are some quick steps to take to help stave off the effects of excess screen time. The first, and likely the most important, should surprise no one: reduce screen time.
Current guidelines state that children younger than two should be exposed to screens as little as possible and those over two should only be allowed 1-2 hours per day (adults can also take a cue from this). Another common sense fix is to kick tablet-transfixed kids outdoors. Some studies have linked time spent outside to improved vision in children, possibly because of greater exposure to sunlight.