Eye-Pads: Is technology harming kids' vision?
The connection between kids and media gadgets seems to be never-ending. Almost immediately after waking, some reach for their cellphones to check their text messages or social network feeds. Within an hour or two, they’re staring at a computer or tablet, if not at home, then at school. Once home, computer-related homework and video games beckon. And there’s always a new 3-D movie to see at the theaters.
According to the American Optometric Association's most recent Eye-Q survey, 85 percent of parents indicate their children use an electronic device up to four hours a day. Nearly one-third of parents say they worry that, over time, the hours spent using the devices may damage their children’s eyes, while 53 percent believe viewing 3-D images may be harmful.
Member Kimberly Reeve of Charlotte, North Carolina, is in the camp of parents who don’t fret over media gadgets’ impact on her kids’ eyesight. “I have some concerns about them spending too much time in front of a screen. But concerns about their vision is not one of them,” she says, even though her 11-year-old daughter is nearsighted. “Nearsightedness runs in our family,” she explained.
The blue light factor
Highly rated Chicago optometrist Dr. Dominick Maino says working on multimedia screens can hasten nearsightedness in kids when viewed closely, forcing the eye’s lens to adjust to short distances. Most nearsighted cases are hereditary, says Maino, who also serves as the professor of pediatric binocular vision at the Illinois College of Optometry.
Research also shows that spending more time outdoors diminishes the progression of the condition, he says, adding, if most parents send their kids outside to play, “most of these issues can be resolved easily.”
Maino says consumers are more likely to get blurred or double vision, eye fatigue and redness, none of which are permanent, from overusing the technology.
Yet optometrist Michael Murphy, with highly rated Clarence Eye Care in Williamsville, New York, says children’s vision is vulnerable to damage from the blue light used to backlight many multimedia devices. Murphy says studies show that high-energy blue light increases the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Macular degeneration is the loss of central vision and a cataract is a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, blurring vision.
There is no research-based evidence for long-term effects of excess exposure to computers, video games and other multimedia monitors on the incidence of eye diseases like macular degeneration, says highly rated Dr. Mark Borchert, director of the Eye Birth Defects and Eye Technology Institutes at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
The benefits of playing outside
“The recent onset of technology and its ever-changing nature makes it challenging for long-term studies,” he says. “We haven’t lived long enough with these technologies to determine their side effects.”
He adds that there are no studies that indicate how blue light is more harmful than any other light. “Our eyes evolved outdoors with exposure to natural sunlight, which includes blue light,” Borchert says. Before the technology existed, our total exposure to light, including blue light, was far greater by virtue of being outdoors more, he adds.
Murphy says that blue light is harmful to kids because they have larger pupils and clearer lenses, which allow more blue light to the retina. “We’re exposed [visually] to blue light all day, every day, other than the times we are asleep,” he says. “What kids will experience wouldn’t likely present itself until later in life.”
Murphy says less time spent using the devices and more time spent outdoors is the best solution. Glass lenses that block blue light can lessen children’s risk of getting macular degeneration or cataracts.
“If you don’t need glasses to see, you can still get a pair of glasses with lenses that have the protective coating in them,” Murphy says, adding that most contact lenses have protection against long-wave ultraviolet A and short-wave ultraviolet B rays.