How Screen Time Affects Your Eyes




Have you ever wondered how screen time affects your eyes? According to comparitech.com, the average time Americans spend looking at screens each day is 7 hours and 4 minutes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans ages 15 and older are awake for about 14-15 hours a day. This means that on average, we spend around half of our waking hours staring at a screen. Most are aware that excessive screen time has been linked to difficulty falling asleep, various mental health problems, and not getting enough physical activity. However, many aren't aware that it can also negatively affect your eyes, which is why enforcing limits on screen time for you and your family is crucial.


One of the most prevalent eye problems caused by too much screen time is myopia (nearsightedness). Previously, there was very little evidence that excessive screen time damages the eye. However, as screen use has increased due to remote learning and working, so has the need for further studies on the issue. One study published in The Lancet Digital Health in October of 2021 indicated that the prolonged daily use of smart devices such as mobile phones is associated with an approximately 30% higher risk of myopia. If combined with high levels of computer use, that number rises to 80%. Professor Rupert Bourne of the Eye Research Institute at Anglia University took part in this study and says that by 2050, around half the population of the entire world is expected to have myopia. While there are surgical options for myopia treatment that have been said to reverse or mostly reverse its effects, these options can be pricey and may not affect each individual the same way. Limiting screen use can slow the progression of myopia or even prevent it in individuals who wouldn't have otherwise developed it, so it's still important to approach the enforcement of screen time limits with diligence.


But how much screen time is enough? Adults should spend no more than 2 hours looking at a screen outside of work (per reidhealth.org). For children, the amount is about the same, no more than 1-2 hours outside of school (per OSF Healthcare.) You can enforce these limits by setting a timer whenever a screen is in use or installing a trusted screen time limiting app on the device (most Apple devices come with one that you can access through the settings app). You can also utilize the 20-20 rule whenever a screen is in use: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something far away. This exercise gives the eyes a break and prevents eye strain from staring at a screen for long periods of time.


Another common issue caused by excessive screen use is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Symptoms of CVS include dry, itchy, or red eyes, blurry vision, back and neck aches, headaches, and muscle fatigue. Luckily, unlike screen-induced myopia, symptoms of CVS are usually temporary and can be alleviated by limiting the amount of time spent using a screen and adjusting your environment when a screen is in use. This article from the Mayo Clinic explains how to optimize your workspace. Its target audience is adults, but the sections on desk and monitor positioning could be useful for children at school too. The 20-20 rule also works to alleviate symptoms of CVS such as dry eyes and eye strain.


In conclusion, limiting the amount of time that you and your family spend on screens is crucial to keeping your eyes healthy. Unrestricted screen time can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome, a condition that is reversible and causes temporary discomfort, but it can also cause myopia which is harder to treat and can be permanent. There are multiple ways to go about curbing excessive screen time, so it may be necessary to try more than one of them to see what works best for your family. In the end, you only have one set of eyes, so limiting screen time to keep them healthy is essential.


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