Today, life without smartphones has become unimaginable. The numerous features it offers has made us completely dependent on smartphones. The radiation caused by mobile phones and how it adversely affects the human body is a well-known fact. However, recent reports have shown that usage of smartphones can also cause dry eye disease (DED). It is a multi-factorial chronic disorder that is prevalent in many countries. The number of people affected with this condition is bound to increase, as the usage of smartphones multiplies. DED has physical, social, and psychological consequences as it results in impaired vision and/or psychological problems. The overuse of laptops, electronic tablets, readers, and smartphones, is considered an important cause of DED.1
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Dry-eye disease is a condition that occurs when the eyes don’t produce sufficient tears. This causes the eyes to turn red, swollen and irritated. 2 In most cases, DED occurs from lower blinking rates and an increased tear evaporation rate with tear film instability. However, with DED being a multi-factorial disease, these are not the exclusive causes of this disorder.3
What Research Says
A study conducted and published in BMC Opthalmology showed that children who spent substantial time on smartphones displayed more symptoms of dry-eye disease. Smartphone use in children was strongly associated with pediatric DED. However, outdoor activity appeared to be protective against pediatric DED.4 So, children must be encouraged to spend more time playing outdoors than on their smartphones, as outdoor activity protects the eyes from contracting the dry eye disease.
Staring at the smartphone screen is much like continuously staring at the computer screen. When we constantly gaze at the screen, it causes a decreased maximum blink interval, which results in dry eye symptoms. A reduced blink rate during continuous smartphone use results in faster evaporation of the tear film, which then leads to DED. This also causes complications such as ocular fatigue and myopic shift. This reinforces the study, which says that pediatric smartphone use and reading induces a lower blink rate, which may contribute to or cause pediatric DED. Moreover, many people have reported ocular fatigue after prolonged viewing of the screen.
The watching distance between the eyes and the device is very short because of the small screen size. This causes eye fatigue much the same way the TV affects our eyes when watched from close proximity. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), the average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home.5
How To Prevent Dry Eyes And Eye Strain?
Minimizing the usage of smartphones and using it only when it’s absolutely necessary is the key to preventing damage to the eyes. To reduce digital eye strain, the AOA recommends that we follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.6
Dry eye disease must be detected at the earliest. Like with most ailments, early detection helps to provide effective treatment. Those suffering from this condition must consult their ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination. Elders must observe if their children are spending prolonged hours on the smartphone, and create awareness among the children about the negative impact of overuse of smartphones.
|↑1, ↑3||Kawashima, Motoko, Miki Uchino, Norihiko Yokoi, Yuichi Uchino, Murat Dogru, Aoi Komuro, Yukiko Sonomura et al. “The association between dry eye disease and physical activity as well as sedentary behavior: results from the Osaka study.” Journal of ophthalmology 2014 (2014).|
|↑2||Hosie Rachel. Using Smartphones Increases Risk Of Dry-Eye Disease. Independent. 2017.|
|↑4||Moon, Jun Hyung, Kyoung Woo Kim, and Nam Ju Moon. “Smartphone use is a risk factor for pediatric dry eye disease according to region and age: a case control study.” BMC ophthalmology 16, no. 1 (2016): 188.|
|↑5||Kids’ prolonged smartphone use could trigger dry eye. American Optometric Association. 2017|
|↑6||Computer Vision Syndrome. American Optometric Association. 2017.|