Youth glued to screens show signs of an eye problem seen in much older people.
Story based on research by Dr Alex Muntz
New Zealand youth who spend long hours on screens show signs of an eye condition typically seen among the elderly, University of Auckland research shows.
A study of more than 450 attendees of an Auckland gaming convention in 2019 revealed an average total weekly screen time of over 43 hours, according to research just published in the journal Contact Lens and Anterior Eye.
Many of the participants were teenagers but showed clinical signs and symptoms of dry eye disease that would typically be seen in much older patients.
This progressive, chronic, and painful condition – sometimes described as like sandpaper on the eyes – negatively affects vision and quality of life.
Participants filled out a survey on an iPad, which also monitored their blinking. The data revealed an association between screen time and dry eye, driven by reduced blinking during screen use.
“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,” says Dr Alex Müntz, a research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology. “Lifestyle choices matter, especially when the health and wellbeing of our tamariki and rangatahi are at play.”
Screen time included computers, smartphones, tablets, and virtual reality devices, but not television. The results matched studies elsewhere confirming doctors’ reports of an increased number of young patients with dry eye and other conditions apparently related to excessive screen use.
“This study raises concerns about an earlier onset of dry eye disease, and irreversible changes to the eye surface that may result,” says Dr Müntz. “Existing management strategies are mostly palliative and do not circumvent the need for behavioural change, as well as for developing evidence-based guidance on safe screen use for youth.”