By Pallavi Mehra

CAMBRIDGE, England — Covid-19 pandemic gave us a virtual world we never imagined. With excessive use of smartphones, laptops and tablets, the risk of eye problems increased manifold.

A new study has revealed a link between screen time and higher risk and severity of myopia, or short-sightedness, in children and young adults.

The findings of the study were published in “The Lancet Digital Health” journal.

The open-access research was undertaken by researchers and eye health experts from Singapore, Australia, China and the UK, including Professor Rupert Bourne, Professor of Ophthalmology in the Vision and Eye Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

The authors examined more than 3,000 studies investigating smart device exposure and myopia in children and young adults aged between 3 months old and 33 years old.

After analyzing and statistically combining the available studies, the authors revealed that high levels of smart device screen time, such as looking at a mobile phone, is associated with around a 30 percent higher risk of myopia and, when combined with excessive computer use, that risk rose to around 80 percent.

The research comes as millions of children worldwide have spent substantial time using remote learning methods following the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The “myopia epidemic” is likely to be driven by exposure to environmental risk factors present in ever more urbanized and developed societies, with two major risk factors of particular concern: insufficient time spent outdoors and more time engaged in so-called near-vision work activities during childhood.

“Around half the global population is expected to have myopia by 2050, so it is a health concern that is escalating quickly,” said Bourne.

“Our study is the most comprehensive yet on this issue and shows a potential link between screen time and myopia in young people.”

In the past decade, the ubiquitous adoption of digital smart devices (i.e., smartphones and tablet computers) constitutes a new form of near-vision work, and children use these devices for long uninterrupted periods (approximately eight hours per day) and at viewing distances closer than for conventional books.

There is emerging evidence describing the varied adverse consequences of excessive smart device use. Although the increased prevalence of myopia precedes the advent of smart devices, it has been suggested that these devices could be exacerbating the myopia epidemic.

“This research comes at a time when our children have been spending more time than ever looking at screens for long periods due to school closures, and it is clear that urgent research is needed to further understand how exposure to digital devices can affect our eyes and vision,” said Bourne.

“We also know that people underestimate their own screen time, so future studies should use objective measures to capture this information.”

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Anindita Ghosh

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