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‘Use of smartphones close to eyes can cause myopia’


An Optometrist, Dr Henry Emelike on Wednesday urged Nigerians to desist from excessive use of smartphones devices because of their negative effect on the sight.

Henry, an Optometrist at the Gwamna Awan General Hospital, Kakuri in Kaduna gave the advice in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Kaduna.

He said that the number of cases of short-sightedness among young people had soared due to high use of smartphones and tablets.

“Since the launch of smartphones in 1997 there has been a 35 per cent increase in the number of people with advancing myopia (short sightedness) according to a research carried out by David Allamby, founder of Focus Clinics, USA.

“It is estimated that the problem would increase by 50 per cent in the next 10 years. Mr Allamby dubbed this condition as screen sightedness,’’ he said.

According to him, a large number of the world’s population, especially young people own smartphones or tablets and they spend an average of two hours daily using them.

“This, along with time spent using computers and watching television is putting children and young people at the risk of permanently damaging their sights.

“The average smartphone or tablet user holds the device 30 cm from their face with some holding them just 18 cm away, compared to newspapers and books which are held 40 cm away from the eyes,’’ he said.

He said that excessive screen watching at close proximity keeps the genes that control myopia activated well beyond the age that myopia (short sightedness) would historically have stabilised which was about 21 years.

“Myopia used to stop developing in people in their early 20s but now it is now seen progressing throughout the 20s, 30s, and even 40s.

“It is predicted that if things continue as they are, about 40 to 50 percent of 30-year-olds could have myopia by 2033 as a result of smartphones and lifestyles in front of the screen which would become an epidemic called screen sightedness.

“Meanwhile, children are actually able to focus at close distances for extended periods of time than adults and experience less eyestrain than adults.

“This is due to the higher elasticity and resilience cum proper functioning of ocular muscles in children and younger people.

“Still, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends limiting a child’s screen time (including TV, computer, game console, tablet and smartphone) to no more than two hours a day.

“I’m not sure how realistic that is because most classrooms use computers and tablets now-a-days,’’ he said.

Emelike said that the phenomenon of “screen sightedness’’ was due to difficulty and discomfort of the constant work of accommodation and convergence as contents from mobile phones seem to appear in front of the screen rather than behind it.

He said that said these involved interplay of intrinsic ocular muscles as well as extraocular muscles’ fatigue.

“In this our “technology-centric” world, the use of these screen devices is, however, pretty hard to avoid,” he said.

The Optometrist listed the following symptoms to be associated with short-sightedness: Sore, tired, burning, itching, dry or watery eyes.

Others are blurred vision, difficulty in focusing, headaches, sore neck and shoulders.

He, however, noted that there were few healthy tips that could help one override screen sightedness.

“The 20-20-20 Rule: For every 20-minute work at the screen or any close-up work, take a break for 20 seconds and focus on an object 20 feet away.

“Alternatively, give your eyes a two to three minutes rest after every half hour of close-up work,’’ he said.

Emelike said that the former was preferred by eye care professionals, advising users to hold up the smartphone at least 16 inches from their faces.

“Moderately adjust your screen brightness and contrast to improve the clarity of fonts and pictures to prevent you from drawing the screen closer to your eyes than normal.

“The use of anti-reflective or transition glasses is recommended to prevent glare sensitivity.

“A healthcare application called Eye Trainer (for Android OS) that provides a five-minute workout for your eyes to prevent eyestrain is also helpful.

“It consists of 12 exercises that take less than five minutes to complete. This could be handy, and yes, I get the irony of recommending a smartphone app to treat a problem caused by smartphones.’’

He urged residence to embark a little discipline by using the devices only when absolutely necessary.

“Finally, blink! Blink a lot, it helps protect the tear film layer amidst other protective cum bactericidal functions of tears,’’ Emelike said.

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