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Eyes On Screens: What it Means for Vision Health

SriniVas Sadda, MD

President & Chief Scientific Officer

Most of us spend part of our day, or even most of it, looking at a screen. Our kids are spending an average of 7 hours a day on a screen. In some parts of Asia, it’s even more time than that. Those habits and their impact on vision were a major topic of discussion at the most recent Asia-Pacific Vitreo-retina Society (APVRS) Congress in Kuala Lumpur, and with good reason.

The latest research demonstrates the negative effects of excessive screen time on our eye health. It’s not good for our eyes to take in so much High Energy Visible Light (HEV) — light the screens our electronic devices emit — at close range. This over-exposure to HEV light and the dopamine it delivers to the brain, coupled with relative deprivation of sunlight, is unhealthy. There is a connection between these conditions caused by excessive screen time and myopic macular degeneration.

When our eyes focus on a screen that is close to us – a desktop or laptop, the need to focus on the far-off is reduced or even mostly eliminated. The eye compensates by growing a bit to bend the light. Looking at a phone screen even closer to our eyes exaggerates the problem. This eye growth can lead to myopia. Later, it can cause a deterioration of the macula, or macular degeneration, which results in vision loss. Macular degeneration is expensive to treat and profoundly debilitating for those who have it.

The fact is, we are faced with eye disease that is accelerated, or even caused by human habits. This is an unusual phenomenon in ophthalmology, and the topic of significant conversation among our colleagues around the world. Centuries of vision science research have been devoted to finding cures for diseases of the eye. Ophthalmologists have less experience in efforts aimed at behavior modification. Our partners in this will have to be our patients, and we look forward to building public health initiatives that can help us focus eyes on the world around us, not mostly on our screens.

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