DEC 21, 2021 9:30 AM PST

Are Smart Devices Causing More People To Be Nearsighted?

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

According to the American Optometric Association, at least 40% of Americans are myopic, or nearsighted. Myopia is characterized by an eyeball that is too long or that has a cornea that is too curved, making it difficult to focus. If left untreated, myopia can lead to a number of health problems, such as glaucoma and blindness. Alarmingly, the number of people with myopia continues to rise, especially among children, raising numerous red flags about why this is occurring and what can be done.

According to a new review article in Lancet Digital Health, digital smart devices may be playing a role. 

Researchers collated several articles that studied myopia and how different types of devices could be underlying risk factors for the development of myopia. They categorized studies into three different pools: studies that examined smartphone usage exclusively (category 1), studies that investigated smartphone and computer usage together (category 2), and studies that examined smartphone usage with non-digital, near-vision tasks (category 3). Nearly half of category 1 and category 2 articles suggested an increased risk of myopia with usage of smart devices and computers.

However, researchers noted that despite these patterns, there were several flaws in much of the existing research. For example, reliable measures of screen time were missing in almost a quarter of studies (most relied on self-reports of screen time), highlighting a need for research incorporating objective measures of screentime. 

Researchers also noted that objective/clinical tools for measuring myopia were also missing in these studies, with several using self-reported or parental-reported myopia. Finally, researchers also called for more work to study different types of devices independently (e.g., studying smartphones and tablets separately) to get a better read on how these devices affect the development of myopia, with a particular focus on smartphones because of how much longer people use them and how much closer they are to people’s eyes compared to other non-digital reading materials. 

Overall, however, existing research suggests that digital smart devices may be playing a role in the development of myopia, but more research is needed.

Sources: Lancet Digital Health; American Optometric Association

About the Author
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Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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