Your life and eyes 3 min read

Can the Use of Digital Devices Increase Myopia in Children?

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You have no doubt heard the phrase “square eyes” when you were a child, and you probably say it to your children now. The idea that spending too much time looking at a screen can damage your eyes is a popular one, but how true is it?

Common beliefs

There is a common belief that spending too much time on a computer, smartphone or watching television can cause vision issues. It is understandable, as you are probably quite wary of your children spending so much time playing video games or on the computer! Likewise, if you use computers frequently for work, you might be worried if it is having a negative impact on your eyesight.

Myopia, or short-sightedness, is a common refractive error that many may put down to overdoing it on digital devices. So, how accurate is this?

What is the link between digital devices and myopia?

There has been much debate about the link between digital devices and something known as blue light, and whether this has any impact on eye health. Blue light mostly comes from the sun, but also some fluorescent and LED lighting.

Some digital displays of computers, smartphones and other devices can emit some amounts of blue light. It is a part of the visible light spectrum and has both benefits and risks associated with it. Your eyes aren’t very good at blocking blue light, which could harm your eye health in large doses.

However, the biggest link between digital devices and myopia comes not from the digital screen, but from the action of working up close. Your children will likely spend a lot of time looking at things close-up, such as reading, playing on a tablet or doing homework. It is this that has a bigger impact on your vision.

The risks of increased myopia

There is some research to suggest that if children spend a lot of time focused on close-up activities, there is an increased probability of myopia. This includes things like reading, watching television or playing on a smartphone. The increased risk of myopia is often linked to urban, sedentary lifestyles that many of us live. This is discussed in our blog on the global epidemic of myopia.

It is helpful to encourage your children to take regular breaks from playing on a digital device. This can ensure they relax their eyes and take a break from focusing and is easily achieved by having them play outside or doing another activity that doesn’t require intense focus. The easiest way to rest your eyes is to do something that requires looking at far away objects.

In adults, there is less risk of increasing myopia as the condition usually stabilises during early adulthood. However, you may experience something known as eyestrain. This is a temporary symptom of looking at a screen for too long, often resulting in your eyes feeling tired or irritated.

Any close-up task that requires focusing can usually cause eye strain, but it soon disappears once you have taken a break.

A simple and easy way for you and your children to keep your eyes refreshed and avoid any vision issues is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, aim to look at something that is 20 metres away for 20 seconds. Teach your children to do this whether they are at school or home, and follow it yourself in the office.

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