Smartphones have become an everyday part of life for most of us. Nearly 77 percent of Americans own one according to the Pew Research Center, and the amount of screen time has increased dramatically over the past five years. In fact, the average smartphone user checks his/her device 150 times per day.
While smartphones and other devices have brought us incredible innovation and convenience, medical research reveals that we may need to consider changing our smartphone habits to avoid negative short- and long-term effects on our vision.
Smartphones and eye health
The most common side effect of smartphones on our eyes is digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). This is a phenomenon that occurs when too much screen use causes the muscles in the eyes to become strained. During the past several years, more people have been experiencing symptoms like eye discomfort, blurred vision and headaches due to this syndrome. According to a report from The Vision Council, nearly 61 percent of Americans have experienced eye strain after prolonged use of electronic devices.
Digital eye strain is a temporary condition that is more likely to affect people older than 40, but smartphone use is possibly having greater effects on the younger generation. A so-called “myopia epidemic” is hitting young people. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly half of young adults in the U.S. have nearsightedness – double the percentage compared to previous generations. This is an especially big issue for people of Asian descent.
While myopia can usually be corrected by glasses, they do not treat the underlying condition: a slightly elongated eyeball. In severe cases, this eye elongation stretches and thins the inner parts of the eye, which increases the risk of retinal detachment, cataracts and other eye diseases. Researchers are beginning to find that close-up screen use and decreased time outdoors could be contributing to the myopia epidemic.
Ways to protect your vision
You can avoid negative side effects of screen use on your eyes with a few simple precautions. The ultimate solution, of course, is to spend less time on your phone. It’s especially important for children to spend plenty of time outdoors and away from screens. However, it’s nearly impossible for some people not to use screens at work or in your day-to-day life.
When you are using an electronic device for an extended time, one of the best ways to alleviate digital eye strain is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This relaxes the focusing muscles in your eye.
Another good practice is to keep your phone as far away from your eyes as possible while still being able to read. The greater the distance, the less eye strain. You can also reduce eye discomfort by installing an anti-glare screen filter and blinking often to minimize dry eye symptoms.
Benefits of smartphones
When it comes to vision, smartphones aren’t all bad news. There are many smartphone innovations that help people with low vision read more easily and those affected by blindness to better navigate their environment.
Smartphones can also provide you more information about your health. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there are several apps that can help patients track their eye health. These include Sightbook, which allows people to regularly monitor their visual acuity and send vision scores to their doctors. However, it’s still important to get an in-person eye exam if you have any concerns.
Smartphones have transformed our society, and we are still adjusting to these enormous changes. As technology advances further in the coming years, it’s important that we continue to make our health a top priority.
Dr. S. Akbar Hasan is a Ponte Vedra resident and a board-certified, fellowship-trained ophthalmologist at Florida Eye Specialists. For more information on Dr. Hasan and his practice, visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com.