How Too Much Screen Time Can Cause Myopia

Little boy using a smartphone

Can Too Much Screen Time Cause Myopia?

Myopia, commonly called nearsightedness, has drastically increased in recent years. In fact, the rate of myopia nearly doubled in the last 50 years, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Although myopia can be influenced by many factors, including heredity, spending too much time viewing digital devices may increase the risk of becoming nearsighted.

What Is Myopia?

Myopia affects your ability to see far away objects. Although these objects appear blurry, close objects are perfectly clear. Myopia occurs when the eyeball becomes elongated. The change in shape affects your eye's ability to focus light rays directly on the retina, the layer of light-sensing cells at the back of the eye. Instead, rays are focused in front of the retina, causing blurred vision when you look at objects in the distance.

Nearsightedness can be more than just a minor annoyance. If it's severe, it can increase your risk of developing glaucoma, macular, degeneration, retinal tears, and other eye conditions as an adult.

How Can Screen Time Contribute to Myopia?

Eye doctors have known for years that spending many hours reading or doing other close work during childhood can increase the risk of nearsightedness. In generations past, kids raced home from school, gulped down a snack, and ran outside to play with their friends until dinner time, which may have helped decrease the incidence of myopia.

After computers and digital devices were introduced, children began spending less time outdoors, preferring to surf the Internet, play video games or text on their smartphones. Unfortunately, just like close work, spending too much time viewing screens, may also increase the risk of myopia.

Researchers believe that reduced exposure to sunlight may play a role in the increase in myopia rates. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Chinese schoolchildren who participated in a daily outdoor activity had lower than expected rates of myopia. Researchers noted a 23 percent relative reduction rate in myopia in students after three years of increased outdoor time.

Ways to Reduce the Risk of Myopia and Improve Eye Comfort

These tips may help lower the risk of myopia in children and improve general eye comfort:

  • Make Outdoor Play a Priority. Every additional hour spent outdoors during the week resulted in a 2 percent decrease in the odds of developing myopia, according to a meta-analysis published in Ophthalmology.
  • Reduce Screen Time. Limit screen time to two hours per day or less for older children and teenagers. Children ages 2 to 5 should spend one hour or less viewing screens.
  • Take Frequent Breaks. Spending too much time viewing screens can cause dry eye, blurry vision, eyestrain, headaches, and pain in your neck and shoulder. Encourage your children to step away from their laptops, phones or gaming systems and take a 5-10 minute break every 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Create Device-Free Zones. Bar the use of phones, tablets, and other devices at the dinner table or in the bedroom.
  • Visit a Vision Therapist. Your child may be more likely to develop myopia if his or her eyes don't work well together. Problems with binocular vision can make focusing hard work and may even contribute to the lengthening of the eye. Vision therapy may reduce the risk of your child developing myopia if he or she has a problem with eye teaming and binocular vision or might even slow the progression of myopia if your child is already nearsighted.

Could vision therapy help improve your child's vision? Contact us to schedule an appointment.

Sources:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: Is Too Much Screen Time Harming Children’s Vision, 8/6/18

NPR: Medical Detectives Focus on Myopia, 1/11/12

JAMA Network: Additional Time Spent Outdoors by Children Results in Decreased Rate of Developing Nearsightedness, 9/15/15

Research Gate: Ophthalmology: The Association between Time Spent Outdoors and Myopia in Children and Adolescents A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, 7/12

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