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Avoiding digital eye strain

Published: 
Monday, December 28, 2015

The growing trend is to give children, even toddlers, tablets, albeit specially-designed ones. Both for providing a perceived educational advantage and for keeping them well behaved. Recent studies have shown that the hand/finger swiping motion used on tablet screens seems to be natural to children as young as two years. We can only hope that tablets swipes do not become as common place as baby wipes. 

Computers, phones, tablets and television are common place in the modern world and their excessive usage has resulted in our eyes being subjected to a level of strain unparalleled in our evolutionary history. The all too common ensuing eye strain is a cause for serious concern for individuals, parents, employees and employers. Symptoms include dry and sore eyes, blurry vision, double vision and headaches. Many a student or office worker will have experienced one or more of these. 

Being exposed to blue/HEV (high energy visible) light emitted by the devices and constantly focusing, at close visual range, in order to read or text for long periods are the major causes of digital eye strain and fatigue. It is possible that this may cause or lead to near-sightedness or myopia in the long term. This concern is even more acute in the case of young children. 

It must be pointed out, however, that many people presently suffering from myopia would have inherited the condition. Digital strain and fatigue are usually short term and with adequate and proper rest, tend to pass away. However, the issue of subjecting one’s eyes to this strain, regularly and over the long term, is likely to have adverse effects and is therefore worthy of investigation. 

This issue of digital eye fatigue and strain is occupying the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other institutes for the problem of shortsightedness is a growing global one. 

For example, it is reported that 96.5 per cent of Taiwanese boys aged 19 years and going into the army are shortsighted; not an ideal condition for a soldier. More than half of the population of the world by 2050, it is estimated, will be nearsighted. 

The blue light emitted from the screens of tablets can reach deeper in the eye and thus may do damage to the retina. Research into this is still in the early stages but emerging results point to a possible link between exposure to blue light and long term vision issues such as age related macular degeneration and cataracts. 

So out of an abundance of caution, an education and usage policy/position, specifically for children and for the general population needs be developed, articulated and implemented.

There is a clear and present need to educate the population about the negative side effects of excessive usage of phones and tablets and to suggest a usage policy together with an appropriate exercise regime as it is highly unlikely that the usage of tablets and phones will be discontinued or dramatically reduced. 

Parents should ensure that children do not spend more than 30 to 40 minutes in a session. 

The 20-20-20 rule should be adhered to. This rule states that a 20 second break should be taken every 20 minutes to look at objects 20 feet away. Of course blinking regularly helps to lubricate the eyes as does eye drops.

Eye exercises usually do not form part of exercise routines but they should. In fact there are specific and quite effective yoga exercises that have been in existence for a very long time. 

Those who prefer a technological solution would be happy to know that there are several machines available for exercising one’s eyes. Incorporating eye exercises in our daily routine would be tantamount to keeping an eye on the future of our eyes.

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