Smart phones or simply called mobiles or cells have become the most important tool for communication, social interaction, information, governance, entertainment, education and business. Anything we want to know can now be searched from wherever we are, with the help of smartphones and that information can be shared in a flash of second with others. Many apps that aid in monitoring our health like pulse rate, steps we walk, and the period of exercise we do are playing an important role in maintaining our health too. Banking, paying taxes, shopping, applying for jobs or examinations are some examples where things have become easier with the use of smartphones thus saving our time and cost of traveling or avoiding the cumbersome use of a laptop. In a nutshell, smartphones have become one of the most essential parts of our lives and their utility and use will only increase with time thanks to the explosive rate at which innovations are happening. Hence it is not surprising that we are using smartphones for a significant part of the day to avail benefits and advantages it offers. The present situation of COVID -19 in which schools, colleges, many businesses, cinemas and party halls are closed, has forced use of smartphones or laptops much more than ever. There is no way a kid can miss her or his online classes in the present circumstances forcing them to use smartphones.
So with increased dependence on smartphones, questions arise as to whether it is safe to use it for prolonged times. Does smartphone use affect our eyes as our eyes are continuously staring at the smart phone screen? These are some of the questions that I have tried to answer in this article. In India nearly 37% of the population, which is nearly 500 million uses smartphones and hence if smartphone use is not good for eyes we have huge number of people who may be affected.
Some of the problems ascribed to the use of smartphones are as below.
- Eye strain: It is a very common complaint of people who use smartphones or laptops for a long time. They say that their eyes are sore, tired, painful and sometimes red. This occurs because of the following reasons.
- The smartphone screen is bright and produces glare to which our eyes are not used. So this glare causes eye strain in people who use smartphones for long time more so when they use it in dark.
- Another reason is weblink our lids less often (6-8 per minute) than normal (15 times per minute) when we are reading on a laptop or smartphone. During blinking the tears and oily secretions of the lacrimal gland and conjunctiva are spread over the cornea (black front portion of the eye) to keep it moist and shiny to provide excellent vision. Less blinking leads to evaporation of tear film that is present on the cornea (black front portion of the eye) causing dryness. So when we blink less while using the smartphone, the cornea becomes dry and causes blurry vision, discomfort, redness of eyes and sometimes watering.
- The third reason for eyestrain is the continuous use of smartphones puts stress on our focusing capacity (accommodation). We may also involuntarily narrow our eyes to get a better view while using the mobile. Excessive accommodation and narrowing our eyes cause fatigue of muscles involved in these actions. This also contributes to eye strain.
- Continuous bent posture contributes to neck pain and muscle soreness.
How to overcome eyestrain?
- We should blink our lids more often by conscious effort,
- Follow 20-20-20 rule. That is after every 20 minutes of watching the smartphone take a break of 20 seconds and stare at an object in the far (20ft or more). This relaxes the accommodation.
- Eye doctors prescribe lubricating eye drops in patients with significant dry eyes.
- It is better to check if you have a glass number. If you have a glass number and you are not aware of it and are using mobile for a long time then you are more likely to develop eye strain.
- Limit the use of smart phones especially in the dark.
- Hold at the correct distance of about 30cm and let your posture be upright.
- Many smartphones have facilities to reduce the brightness of the screen and adjustment of light in the dark.
- Children and excessive use of smartphones or tablets
Excessive use of smartphones by children has been shown to increase the chances of developing nearsightedness (myopia) in children. And in children with shortsightedness using glasses, the number may increase faster if they use smartphones excessively. Sometimes myopia can be of severe degree affecting the vision in the long run and this condition is called pathological myopia. Also, prolonged use of smartphone can cause double vision due to strain on muscles that are used in near vision.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children between 2 and 5 should not use the smartphone for more than one hour per day. Prolonged use causes the child to do less physical activity, less interaction with siblings, parents and surroundings leading to many serious side effects in the long run. Thus the physical, mental and social development of the child may be affected in the long run.
Children should be encouraged to play outdoors as much as possible, restrict the time spent on smartphones and take repeated breaks while watching the smartphone.
- Smart phone and blue light–
Smartphones emit blue light which has more energy than other colored lights. The blue light can damage the retina as shown in experiments and hence many advise blue light filter aps or blue light filter glasses to reduce exposure to blue light. However many scientists feel that the damage due to blue light from smartphones is less significant than damage due to blue light from sun. However it is advisable to avoid excessive use of smartphones and reduce blue light by using apps or using blue filter glasses.
In conclusion, smart phone use is increasing and we need to take steps to avoid side effects of excessive use smartphones. To avoid developing eye strain the measures suggested above should be adapted. Children are at more risk of developing short-sightedness due to excessive use of smartphones and hence parents should take appropriate measures to engage the children in other activities.
Dr. VIVEK B WANI MS FRCSED
Consultant vitreoretina surgeon, KLES Dr. Prabhakar Kore Hospital and MRC Nehru Nagar Belagavi