Studies have found a considerable increase in myopia in the digital age (short-sightedness) over the last decades, which is now becoming a concern for health and safety authorities.
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Half of the world’s population will be myopic by 2050
One of the most potent side effects of digitisation is a generation of short-sighted digital natives and children. Scientific literature now focuses on the influence digital developments have on our vision. A recent study by the University of New South Wales predicts that half of the world’s population will be myopic by 2050. Why is that?
Dr Oliver Leick, an ophthalmologist, summarises three main factors linked to short-sightedness: “the genetic factor is the largest, followed by near work, which is playing an increasingly important role due to its growing prevalence. Then there is the lack of daylight.” Even though 44 genetic variants are strongly associated with myopia, short-sightedness and its aetiology are linked to excessive screen time.
The sharp rise in myopia mirrors a trend for children worldwide to spend more time engaged in studying, reading or staring at screens. Furthermore, this screen time keeps them indoors while artificial light increases the strain on their eyes. According to Prof. Dr Thomas Neuhann, Professor of Ophthalmology, children should spend at least one hour a day outdoors to inhibit the development of myopia.
Also, repeated, “close work” promotes eyeball growth, through which axial myopia might develop and play an ever-greater role in the rise of short-sightedness. Serious consequences include glaucoma retinal detachment and other retinal problems.
What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?
Digitisation has already profoundly transformed both our private lives and our working environments. Due to the increasing stress on our eyes, it is vital to start taking more proactive care of our eye health.
According to a study led by The Vision Council, 32,4% of Americans are affected by symptoms of digital eye strain, which can be caused by looking at a screen for more than two hours.
In its report, the Vision Council also states that Americans are experiencing the following symptoms of digital eye strain (DES):
- 2% dry eyes
- 7% headaches
- 9% blurred vision
- 35% neck and shoulder pain
How to alleviate digital eye strain in the workplace
Experts recommend that a comprehensive eye exam should be performed at least every two years. Furthermore, employers can create better working conditions for their staff by investing in larger monitors and by ensuring appropriate lighting conditions (for worst case scenarios employers should also have insurance in place to protect staff and themselves). The following changes have also proven to relieve DES:
- Good lighting, by reducing overhead lightning
- Protection from blue light, by activating blue light filters on PCs
- Favouring LED screens and adjusting the brightness of the display
- Blinking more often, to moisten the eyes and prevent irritation and dryness
- Ventilation and fresh air, especially in air-conditioned offices
- Minimising glare and reflections on computers
To help prevent fatigue and protect the eye surface from drying out, employees should also make a conscious effort to look at objects in the far distance frequently. Taking a break from using digital devices also helps, as well as increasing text size on documents. To relieve the symptoms of digital eye strain, digital devices should also be positioned at arm’s length away.
Digital natives are especially at risk
As alluded to in the introduction, the increased screen time from a younger age is a major trend reported worldwide. In eastern China, in particular, the myopic epidemic has risen dramatically in the last few decades.
A recent study showed that 90% of China’s youth suffer from myopia. Proactive education on eye health is an essential step to cope with these issues.