With consoles, games and tablets topping Christmas wish-lists across the country, a leading eye expert has warned about the risks of eye strain associated with the devices.
We are all exposed to multiple screens in our everyday lives but spending long periods of time in front of screens can trigger a range of health problems including headaches, blurred vision and short-sightedness.
Research commissioned by Optical Express has shown that the nation is clocking up many hours a day viewing smart phones and tablets, with 60 per cent of 18-24 year-olds regularly checking their smartphone, often whilst simultaneously watching TV, using a tablet, or working on a laptop.
There is now growing evidence that viewing screens for extensive periods of time is harming the eye health of children and young people.
According to a recent study, short-sightedness amongst young people has doubled over the last 50 years. Researchers said the increase was due to teenagers spending more time indoors looking at computer screens.
Dr. Steve Schallhorn, chief medical director at Optical Express, said: “There is increasing evidence that computer games, tablets and smart phones are having a grave effect on the eyesight of children whose eyes are still developing.
“The growth and development of a child’s eye can be influenced by the type of work it is required to perform.
“This process is called ‘emmetropization’ and is part of an intricate, active feedback loop between the brain and the eye to provide sharp, in-focus images.
“On the whole, it is really quite an amazing adaptive process, but the downside is that if the predominant visual tasks are close-up work, such as countless hours on a smart phone, the result can be short sightedness.”
Teenagers and young adults are also at risk, Dr Schallhorn said: “Those who focus intensely on screens for a significant period of time are at risk of pseudomyopia – a temporary form of short-sightedness which causes blurry distance vision and can last for several days.”
With increasing evidence about the dangers of over exposure to the blue light emitted by computer screens, tablets and smart phones Dr. Schallhorn advises that people should minimise the amount of time they spend looking at screens.
“Exposure to digital devices can damage retinal cells and is linked to age related macular degeneration (AMD) – a leading cause of blindness,” Dr. Schallhorn said. “If viewed before bedtime the glow from these devices can also upset your sleeping pattern as the hormone responsible for prompting tiredness, melatonin, is reduced.”
He added: “If you are worried about the effects of prolonged exposure to screens or experience headaches, discomfort or are in any way worried about your eyesight consult an optician.”
It is recommended that most people have an eye test every two years. Children can have their first eye examination from the age of three years old.