With the world gone digital, the use of hand-held devices is no longer limited to the economically advantaged.Virtually every home has at least one mobile phone. With technological advances, the once bulky PCs have paved way for more portable devices that do the work of bulky PCs and more.
I-pads, smart phones and notebooks have dominated the digital world and are accessible to children as young as seven years, most of whom spend considerable hours playing games, chatting on social network sites and watching movies.
Besides the social isolation concerns the use of these technology have posed, recent studies have shown that there is an increased risk of early myopia (shortsightedness) and computer vision syndrome in children who are heavy computer and smart phone users.
Around the world, there has been an increase in reported cases of myopia in recent times. In a study conducted by the United States National Eye Institute and published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, it was discovered that there was as much as a 60 per cent increase over a 30 year period. The increase is even more pronounced in Asian countries, increasing from 30 per cent to almost 80 per cent. It is feared that the unprecedented rise in cases is approaching epidemic levels. In fact, according to some estimates, one third of the world’s population will be diagnosed with myopia by the end of this decade.
Myopia is an eye defect whereby near objects are seen clearly but far away objects appear blurred. It occurs if the eyeball is too long or the cornea, the clear front cover of the eye, has too much curvature. As a result, the light entering the eye isn’t focused correctly and distant objects look blurred.
Some studies have linked genetic factors as a cause of myopia but environmental factors, which include near work, have also been pinned. Although myopia can be treated through the use of glasses/contact lenses, orthokeratology or refractive surgery and may just be a minor inconvenience, sometimes, it can be progressive and result to a degenerative condition known as degenerative or malignant myopia, which although a rare condition, can lead to blindness.
Researchers have unanimously agreed that though there are other factors that may put one at risk, spending less time outdoors and heavy use of computers and smart phones increase the risk of myopia because with these activities, the child’s vision system is forced to focus and strain a lot more than any other task. Dr Charles Adebayo, an ophthalmologist, adds that “nowadays, besides spending long hours on phones and other hand-held devices, children go to school much earlier and spend time reading books and studying at close ranges, sometimes for hours without resting the eye and also in bad light. While people used to think myopia was genetic, it’s quite clear that there are also environmental factors related to the amount and intensity of the close work.”
Besides the increased risk of developing myopia, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is another prevalent condition that arises from heavy computer use. In a study by researchers in Zaria, Kaduna State and published in the European Journal of Scientific Research, it was discovered that people who spent more than two hours on a computer everyday had symptoms of CVS which included headaches, burning eyes, general eye strain, tired eyes, blurred vision, aching and dry eyes, light sensitivity and neck and shoulder pain. If a child is also showing signs such as headaches, squinting and blurred vision, it is time parents and guardians take serious action.
With games that take up hours of play and are addictive, it is worrying that children expose themselves to eye defects earlier than they might have been affected. However, the chances of developing myopia or CVS can be reduced. According to Dr. Yinka Ologunsua, an ophthalmologist, some of the ways parents can help their children’s eyes are by:
•Encouraging them to take frequent breaks to help rest the eyes.
•Be observant of their children’s eyes and any complaint from them such as pains or a drop in vision. They should see an ophthalmologist as soon as a problem is detected.
•Introduce anti-glare screens on their computers so as to reduce eye strain.
•Correct any visual error to avoid straining.
•Increasing the font size of the computer/phone screen.
•Using a larger monitor so they can see the print on their computer screen better.
Ophthalmologists have advocated that children take 20-second breaks from their computers every 20 minutes to minimise the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation. Simply looking into the distance or closing the eyes gives the eyes some rest.
They also recommend adjusting the lighting in the room and not working in the dark because eye fatigue and strain can arise from the large difference in luminance between the phone or computer screen and the room’s dark background.