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Kiwi Children Suffering Eye Damage from Excessive Device Use

Kiwi Children Suffering Eye Damage from Excessive Device Use - Expert

Eye strain and damaged vision is on the increase amongst children and office workers, and employers and parents need to do more to protect the vision of those in their care, according to a local optometrist.

The number of Kiwis seeking help for digital eye strain is growing year-on-year with international studies showing 70 percent of device users are adversely affected.

Optometrist Ashreet Nath of OPSM says those Kiwis most at risk are between the ages of five to 35 due to the long hours on screens at school, university, the workplace and while they are socialising.

“More and more people are having problems with their vision including blurred vision, red eyes, dry eyes, and headaches caused by strain, due to the amount of time we spend on devices now,” says Nath.

“The trend is getting worse, and it has been increasing more rapidly since smartphones were first released in 2007 as the amount of screen time has grown with the availability of these and tablets

“Young office workers may be staring at one or even two screens for 8-10 hours a day at work, and then on their lunch break they look at their smartphone while they browse Facebook,” says Nath.

He says many people are also putting their eyes under additional strain by trying to read small fonts on Excel and PDF documents on their screens, as they don’t tend to print things out and read on paper anymore.

“Our eyes don’t even get a break in the car on the way to or from work now as many new vehicles have LCD screens in them too," he says.

Nath says the blue light emitted by devices can be harmful to the retina, which can lead to permanent reduction of vision over time, as well as causing dry eye symptoms and red, irritated eyes.

In the US, studies have found that up to 70 per cent of adults suffer from some form of eye strain while using electronic devices.

Nath says in New Zealand, people need to be more aware of the issue. “We all grew up being told ‘Don’t sit too close to the TV’, so people do know it’s not a good idea to stare too closely at screens all the time, but the message isn’t as loud as the need to wear sunscreen to protect your skin for example, so many people forget to look after their eyes.”

People in the most at-risk group often presented to optometrists with red, dry eyes that feel heavy, frontal headaches, and only very slightly blurred vision, according to Nath.

“Often these symptoms get worse on a Thursday or Friday, because your eyes have been working so hard all week dealing with multiple screens,” he says.

“People often brush it off, drink some more coffee and carry on because they think they are simply tired, but it could be doing real long-term damage to your eyes and vision.

“In the worst cases, I’ve seen people need to take time off work because their eyes are so heavy and irritated, and of course some need to start wearing glasses to help reduce the impact on their vision.”

Nath says large computer and laptop screens are the worst culprits due to their size, but notes that many people hold tablets and smartphones much closer to their face to read and see images, therefore increasing the exposure to blue light rays from these devices.

“It is important to hold screens as far away as possible, and take regular breaks from looking at them. For office workers, write on a post-it a reminder to take a break every 20 minutes and look around, or better yet walk away from the screen altogether.

“Also we need to remember to keep blinking regularly, because when we concentrate on screens we tend to stop blinking and that’s what causes the dry, tired eyes.”

Employers and employees also needed to be aware of the lighting in offices to reduce glare from screens, and improve the ergonomic set-up of desks to ensure they are a safe distance away.

“The specially designed glasses developed to combat the effects of blue light and reduce eye strain from a variety of screens, are becoming more common and are a great way to protect your eyes if you are spending more than five or six hours in front of devices," he says.

For children, Nath says parents should limit screen time to ensure their young eyes do not get damaged early in life. “Devices can be very helpful and entertaining for children, but there need to be regular breaks and time limits,” he says.

“Looking at multiple screens for long periods of time is unavoidable now, but people don’t realise how much it could be affecting them,” he says.

Nath says anyone who is concerned about their eyes or is experiencing any of the symptoms associated with eye strain should visit their optometrist for an examination and ask how they can avoid digital eye strain and what solutions are available.


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