Eye Problems Associated with Hand Held Gaming or Reading Devices
The Technology Wellness Center is dedicated to providing parents with the most recent research on the advantages and disadvantages of technology use in its many forms, e.g., videogames, cell phones, tablets, computers. The focus of this week’s blog will be on identifying some of the potential eye problems inherent with using hand held gaming devices. We will also include seven tips to avoid these problems.
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[membership]Handheld devices such as tablets, cell phones and small gaming devices are typically held at close distances from our face, which forces the eyes to continually focus on that close object. After focusing on close objects for extended periods of time, the focusing systems in the eyes (or the muscles) can spasm. This leads to pseudomyopia or the temporary blurring of objects in the distance. Although this is temporary and the eye eventually adjusts, Pseudomyopia can lead to true myopia or nearsightedness.
Research has demonstrated that more children are becoming near-sighted or myopic at earlier ages than in previous decades. A 2009 JAMA Ophthalmology research article indicated that there has been a 66% increase in the number of individuals with myopia in the United States from the early 1970’s. More disturbing is that it also demonstrated that the number of children with myopia is increasing at a much more dramatic rate than with adults.
According to ophthalmologists, children’s eyes need to look to the horizon or at longer distances for good eye muscle development. In 2011, a meta-analysis (a study of studies) that included over 10,000 children demonstrated that for every hour a child spends outdoors each week, their risk for developing myopia decreases by 2%. While that number seems small, it translates to an 18% drop in risk with each additional daily hour a child spends outside.
As children age their eye muscles develop through long distance use, which leads to better performance at close distances when they are older. Unfortunately, when children play video games or look at devices for lengthy periods of time every day they are using muscles that are not yet developed or ready for this type of eyestrain. Eventually the eye muscle is overused and the child can become nearsighted. This overuse can also cause headaches, blurred vision, and even more rapid progression of nearsightedness in children who are already nearsighted.
A second problem associated with using hand held devices for long periods of time is the stress placed on the vergence system in the eye muscles. The vergence system is responsible for the convergence of a person’s eyes to focus on close objects, such as hand held devices, reading books, looking at homework, etc. Overuse can lead to tiredness and breakdown in this system and may lead to double vision.
In the end, parents need to understand that the convenience of hand held devices has very serious trade offs for our children in the long term. Individual devices keep siblings from fighting with each other, provide an additional medium for reading, and are portable so that children are quiet when we need them to be quiet. However, all this use can translate in to earlier myopic problems for our children. Unfortunately, our children do not always tell us when they are having sight problems; often times they begin experiencing academic problems as a result. Not to mention, a childhood of glasses, broken glasses, lost glasses, sports glasses, contacts, and frequent upgrades in lenses can be a serious financial burden for some families.
Tips to avoid the risk of vision issues in your children:
- Ensure that your child looks away from the closely held screen at least every 10 to 20 minutes. They should look in the distance or out the window.
- Activities or play on devices should be limited to one hour per day.
- Children should not play with handheld devices all in one hour. Studies show that the time spent on close activities should be broken down into smaller chunks so that the eyes can recover and rest.
- Children should spend time outside playing daily. A 2008 Australian study of nearly 4000 children demonstrated that the group of children who reported going outside more to play in a two year period had a lower incidence of myopia than their similarly aged counterparts.
- Hand held devices should not be held too close to their eyes. In general, it should be at least as far away as their lap, although raised up away from their lap.
- Intersperse hand held video gaming with television video game playing if possible.
- Regular, comprehensive eye examinations should begin around age five to evaluate for any of these conditions. Although some ophthalmologists indicate infants should have their eyes screened. The eye exams performed in school or at a general practitioners office are not comprehensive.