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Smartphones to blame for increase in shortsighted kids, says British eye expert


smartphone eyesight
Image: Flickr/ Mystery People
Texting, tweeting and browsing the net with your smartphone too close to your face could be the reason the rates of short sightedness among young people has soared in recent years, a leading laser eye surgeon in the UK has claimed.

 

David Allamby from, Focus Clinics laser eye surgery in London, claims short sightedness in young people has increased by 35 per cent since the launch of smartphones in 1997.

 
In a recent article in the Daily Mail’s Health Section, Allamby said the condition he calls “screen sightedness” could increase by 50 per cent in the next 10 years.
 
Shortsightedness, or myopia, is a condition caused by a combination of hereditary factors and environment, Shlomit Schaal – an eye surgeon and assistant professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Louisville – told Marketwatch in response to the claims.  
 
The environmental factors that contribute include “close work,” or stress on the eye caused by reading or otherwise focusing on a near object.
 
Using a smartphone strains the eyes in much the same way reading a book or staring at a computer monitor does, with one exception – the distance between the eye and the object.
 
When a smartphone is held close to your face, it forces the eye to work harder than usual to focus on text, says Mark Rosenfield, an optometrist who published research on the topic in The Journal of the American Academy of Optometry in 2011.
 
People tend to hold smartphones considerably closer to their faces than they would a book or newspaper, which is normally viewed at around 40cm, Rosenfield reported in his research.
 
And since smartphones have such a small screen, the incidents of peering closely at them tend to be higher than for other devices.
 
Since it is linked to heredity, there is no known way to prevent myopia, or even to slow it down. Glasses and contact lenses don’t affect its progression, Schaal says. The greatest shifts in myopia happen before age 25.
 
Holding a smartphone farther away (but still using it the same amount) won’t necessarily prevent myopia entirely, Schaal said.
 
But Rosenfield says holding a phone at least 40cm from your face during use can be beneficial.
 
He also suggests taking breaks from using the phone. During those breaks, it is helpful to look into the distance, which relaxes the eye as it focuses on faraway detail instead of what is close.
 
When individuals are already affected by myopia, there are some ways tablets and other devices can even help, the doctors said.
 
Patients, especially those with age-related macular degeneration, have benefited from being able to view larger fonts and increased contrast on tablets and other e-readers.
 
“In the past, these patients might have had to use a magnifying lens or very strong glasses to read the material, but now they can enlarge the print and read it with a more normal prescription,” Rosenfield said.
 
Published 6 November 2013

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