It started with phone calls, led to texting and calendars and games, and now it seems, whether you’re on a Blackberry, iPhone, Google Android, or Windows Mobile, your smartphone can do anything – from setting your oven timer to mapping your hiking trial via GPS to editing your digital photos.
You can even download the full text of the complete works of Shakespeare – for free. If that sounds better to you than lugging a heavy, dusty tome around, you’re in good company.
But is reading War and Peace on an inches-long, backlit screen really a good idea? As millions of us migrated from the page to the phone, will our vision suffer?
Yes, and it’s already happening, says Dr. Karen Bassichis Saland, a Dallas ophthalmologist. About a quarter of her patients suffer eyestrain from staring at digital screens. She expects that percentage to increase as smartphones become increasingly popular.
“Right now it’s not talked about much,” said Saland in an article in the Dallas Morning News. “But when people stare at anything too long they forget to blink, which means they don’t moisten their eyes. That leads to dry eye, which, if unchecked, can impair vision. Dry eye can also cause eyestrain.”
Trying to read on tiny smartphone screens can cause the same symptoms as reading on bigger laptop, iPad, Kindle and desktop screens: headaches; focusing difficulties; burning, aching, dry, and/or tired eyes; double vision; blurred vision; and light sensitivity.
And these symptoms may be exacerbated by the fact that, because the phones are backlit and portable, people tend to use them in places they wouldn’t normally read, such as darkened movie theaters or dimly lit bars and restaurants.
The problem with this is glare. Whereas most of us know we should use an overhead light to minimize glare on our home and work computers, we don’t think twice about reading on our smartphones in the dark.
The solution: Don’t use your phone to read in any place you wouldn’t normally read a book.
More solutions for using your smartphone smartly:
- On a Kindle, iPad or computer, you can increase the font size to make reading easier. For smartphones, a device called a digital magnifier allows you to magnify the text on the page to an easy-to-see level. There are many apps available (for example, Windows Mobile Magnifier), which vary based on your device.
- It may sound like common sense, and it is: Hold your phone some inches away from your face instead of reading it with your head tipped down to your lap. (This will not only save your vision, but also your neck.)
- Women, take note: Apply artificial tears if you’re looking at the screen for more than 30 minutes at a time. Men should do this as well, but, according to Dr. Antoinette Dumalo, vice president of the British Columbia Association of Optometrists, women are more prone to dry eyes than men. “It has been speculated that the reason women are more prone …is that hormones play a part in tear production, so perhaps hormonal changes that occur in perimenopause and menopause explain why older women are more susceptible.”
- Look for fonts developed especially for handheld devices, such as Microsoft Reader’s Frutiger Linotype and ClearType, a setting that smoothes the edges of screen fonts to make text more readable.
While phone-induced eyestrain is not as bad as what happened to a 26-year-old French security guard – who was injured when his iPhone screen suddenly exploded, sending shards of glass up in the air – it’s certainly something we need to be aware of. It’s not just the smartphones that are dangerous to our eye health, although they certainly play a role in eye strain. Computers, video games, and even our televisions are damaging to our vision.
Next time you’re tempted to download a book onto your smartphone, you might want to visit an old-fashioned bookstore or read it on your iPad or Kindle instead. Enjoy the feel of the pages beneath your fingertips, the popularity of the Kindle and other electronic reading devices is literally putting book publishers out of business. While this may be great news for our forests, it’s not such great news for our vision.
Eye strain caused by electronic screens has become a growing problem for people of all ages. For more information about how to relieve the strain on your eyes, consider reading our post entitled, “Easy, Natural Ways to Relieve Eyestrain Caused by Using Digital Devices.” It offers several simple tips that can easily be done at home or work to help relieve the eye strain caused by electronic screens.
Between games on the computers and school work done on a computer, even our children’s vision is in more danger now than in the past. Many children in elementary school have their own cell phones. This means that they are just as susceptible to eye strain as we are. In fact it could be even worse for our children. Right now, most of the vision problems that result from eye strain affects adults, but as our children are exposed to more and more electronic screens the problems may affect them as well.
Advances in technology may make our lives easier. They certainly are more convenient than buying a paper to see the news. They are lighter to carry than a bag full of books. However, the fact is that they just aren’t very healthy for our eyes.
Whenever possible, give your eyes a break from the screens of your smartphones and computers. Failing that, at least remember to blink!