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Symptoms of Heavy Digital Device Use on the Rise among Gen X

Lack of awareness and vanity are the two main reasons Kiwis don't seek treatment for an age-related vision condition, with Generation X being the worst offenders according to experts.

Optometrists are warning that prolonged exposure to digital devices may exacerbate the symptoms of presbyopia a common vision condition, which along with affecting eyesight can leave sufferers with eyestrain and neck pain.

Presbyopia is an age related condition estimated to affect more than 2.2 million Kiwis aged over 40. The number of Kiwis in this age bracket is expected to increase to 2.6m by 2028 according to Government statistics.

The disorder results in the eye being no longer able to focus on near objects. It is often characterised by digital device users needing to hold their phone further away from their face or needing brighter lights to read by.

Optometrist Bruce Nicholls says the strain caused by trying to focus on small print for long periods can cause headaches and tired or sore eyes.

He says that constantly switching our focus between devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs as well as hard copies of printed pages is putting our eyes under an unnatural level of stress.

“Presbyopia is a normal condition which has always been present in humans but in recent years our increasing dependence on digital devices has meant the frequency of these symptoms like headaches, eye strain and neck pain occurring seems to be on the rise.

“For many people, devices are in constant use from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.

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“Many of us simply transition from one device to another through the day which places continuous pressure on eye muscles that become less able to handle this kind of workload as we age,” he says.

Palmerston North optometrist Brian Naylor says from the age of around 40, we lose some of our ability to focus each year and the change is often so subtle that patients are not aware of it until someone else points it out.

“We often see male patients coming to us in their late fifties who have been living with the condition for almost two decades.

“Presbyopia is characterised by difficulty in reading small print, fatigue from doing close work, squinting and needing to hold reading material at arm’s distance to focus on it properly.

“Each year after 40 we lose a small amount of vision and need to move the device about 2cm further away from our face to focus on it. At 65 this change begins to plateau.

“The loss of lifestyle in that time can be significant and many of them have simply no interest in even reading the newspaper because the toll on their eyes is too much, but it's not until their family members point it out to them that they will come in for a check up.

“An increase in the consumption of digital media has not aided those with this condition as the default font size of some smartphone content is smaller than the equivalent hard copy newspaper.

“There are other ergonomic implications as well as extending the arm beyond a right angle to better focus on your device for any period of time is not a movement the body is accustomed to.

“There is also a vanity factor in there, the traditional progressive lens which is associated with this condition is a sign of aging many middle aged men don't want to admit they are at that stage in their life.

“Unfortunately, left untreated the condition can potentially become a health and safety issue as these men may avoid reading key information such as instructions,” he says.

Maile Tarsau from Visique Eye Spy Optometrists says the early onset of presbyopia may be associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or autoimmune disease and so it is important to have regular screenings if you are experiencing any reduction in vision symptoms or have any of these conditions.

Tarsau advises adults over 40 to be screened every two years by an optometrist and says new technology to treat the condition is entering the market regularly.

“Every person’s vision has different ‘blind spots’ which impact on their ability to focus while reading, but new diagnostic equipment coming on to the market will now allow the creation of personalised lenses to treat presbyopia. The equipment looks at a patient’s posture and behaviour while reading text on a digital device and from that, a new type of Varilux Progressive lens can be made.

These glasses will allow users to switch between screens without having to shift their head in the same way the older style progressive lenses did,” she says.

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