What Smartphones Do to Children’s Eyes

A study found symptoms of pediatric dry-eye disease were more common among frequent smartphone users

By Ann Lukits

Pediatric dry-eye disease can negatively affect vision and school performance, experts say. Photo: iStock

Symptoms of dry-eye disease were more common in children who spent more time on smartphones and less time outdoors than other young people, a study in BMC Ophthalmology found.

When the children gave up their phones for a month, the dry-eye symptoms significantly improved.

Pediatric dry-eye disease can negatively affect vision and school performance and is believed by many specialists to be underdiagnosed, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Staring at smartphones, computers and other screens has been linked to reduced blinking, which can lead to faster evaporation of the tear film and increase the risk of dry-eye disease. Smartphones also have a short watching distance due to their small screens that can tire the eyes, the researchers said.

Researchers in South Korea conducted eye exams on 916 children, ages 7 to 12 years. Sixty children, or 6.6% of the total, met the criteria for dry-eye disease based on various assessments, including tear-breakup time, a test that measures the stability of the tear film. Of those children, 97% reported on questionnaires that they used smartphones, on average for 3.2 hours a day. In contrast, 55% of children without dry-eye symptoms, the control group, had smartphones, which they used about 37 minutes a day.

The controls also spent more time outside—an average of 2.3 hours a day compared with 1.5 hours by the dry-eye group.

The study didn’t assess the participants’ use of artificial tears, family income or allergies, the researchers said.

Smartphone use is a risk factor for pediatric dry eye disease according to region and age: a case control study.

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