Extended screen time linked to drying out teenagers’ eyes

Teens that spend too much time in front of a screen are at risk of developing dry eye disease, a New Zealand study has found.

Over 450 participants took part in the investigation during a gaming conference. The University of Auckland researchers asked the group to fill out a survey on their screen use using an iPad, which also monitored the frequency of their blinking.

The participants had an average weekly screen time of more than 43 hours and the research showed a link between long periods of screen time and dry eye disease, because of reduced blinking during screen use. Many of the subjects showed symptoms of dry eye disease that would typically be seen in much older patients.

Symptoms include slightly red-looking eyes or the feeling of gritty, sore, or sometimes even watery or itchiness in your eyes. Dry eyes may also lead to fluctuating vision clarity and ‘tired’ eyes, especially during or after excessive screen time.

There are concerns that home schooling and staying indoors during the pandemic could lead to dry eye disease becoming more prevalent in young people.

“People may not want to hear this right now, when we’re all glued to our screens for work and school, but this may be yet more evidence of the toll from excessive screen time,” said Dr Alex Müntz, a research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Auckland.

Dry eye disease is a progressive and painful condition – sometimes described as like sandpaper on the eyes – that negatively affects both vision and quality of life.

Excess screen time can also lead to digital eye strain.

Luke Arundel, Optometry Australia’s Chief Clinical Officer, said: “Our eyes were not designed to stare at short distances and artificial light for long periods. Most people’s eyes are most comfortable when focusing around six meters away, so viewing a digital screen – be it a computer, TV or phone – forces our eyes to work harder.

“When we focus on something close up for too long, and don’t adjust our line of vision or relax our muscles, the eyes tire out and we blink less. This can lead to complications like dry eye disease.

“It’s important that people who enjoy gaming, watching TV and scrolling on social media for entertainment and relaxation also split this time with other recreational activities that don’t involve digital screens.”

If you’re experiencing dry eye, we recommend making an appointment with an optometrist. You can find one near you here.

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