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How Tiny Screens May Hurt Your Eyes


Ever since smart­phones burst onto the mar­ket­place near­ly a decade ago, mak­ing read­ing on the devices as attrac­tive as talk­ing into them, much has been said about their seduc­tive pow­er.

Psy­chol­o­gists describe those who hyper­ven­ti­late after dis­cov­er­ing they are miss­ing their phones as hav­ing “nomo­pho­bia” (the fear of hav­ing no-mobile), and those who sense the buzzing of a new call or text — even when it didn’t hap­pen — are said to be plagued by Phan­tom Cell Phone Vibra­tion Syn­drome.

Come­di­ans, too, love to mock the image of a soli­tary human gaz­ing into the smart­phone and ask­ing Siri to define lone­li­ness.

Yet for all the con­cern over smart­phones and oth­er mobile devices and their addic­tive poten­tial, there may be more phys­i­cal prob­lems to con­sid­er: Star­ing at tiny screens, it turns out, is dry­ing out our eyes, caus­ing us to tense up our facial mus­cles, and even mak­ing some of us feel dizzy.

Eye doc­tors say that patients com­plain of dry eyes, blur­ry vision, headaches, and mus­cle strain — and only after con­sul­ta­tions do they real­ize that it is relat­ed to exces­sive use of smart­phones, among oth­er com­put­er devices. Though sci­en­tists have intro­duced some inven­tions that can turn smart­phones into read­ing aids, most peo­ple are at risk for the dan­gers these devices pose for their eyes.

Eye doc­tors say the most com­mon prob­lem is that peo­ple blink far less when their eyes are strain­ing to read text on a small screen. Peo­ple typ­i­cal­ly blink about 15 times a minute, but the aver­age blink rate shrinks 50 per­cent or more when a per­son is star­ing into a smart­phone screen.

There are more than just dry eyes to con­sid­er. As peo­ple squint at their screens, their facial mus­cles con­tort in a way that can cause headaches. Peo­ple also tend to stiff­en their neck and shoul­der mus­cles as they read from the small screens, which are often mov­ing, even if only slight­ly, as they are held in the user’s hands. This array of symp­toms has been dubbed Com­put­er Vision Syn­drome.

Oph­thal­mol­o­gists rec­om­mend some dai­ly tips to make sure peo­ple get only the ben­e­fits — and not the phys­i­cal draw­backs — of smart­phone use. They include tak­ing breaks every 20 min­utes or so from star­ing at the screen, try­ing to blink more often, and increas­ing font size.

Doc­tors also urge peo­ple to avoid pro­longed read­ing on smart­phones, they do not need to wor­ry that long expo­sure to these devices is per­ma­nent­ly hurt­ing their vision.

Heavy smart­phone users should also be care­ful to avoid too much read­ing in bed at night, as the blue light emit­ted from mobile devices can sup­press the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin, which helps reg­u­late sleep, clin­i­cians say.

The lat­est iPhone oper­at­ing sys­tem can also affect a person’s sense of bal­ance. Short­ly after it was released, numer­ous users com­plained that the rapid­ly mov­ing icons — that seem to zoom in and out with greater nim­ble­ness than before — trig­gered dizzy spells.

It is not rare that patients com­plain of sore eyes, blur­ry vision, and headaches from the overuse of smart­phones.

Dr. Steven Rauch, an otol­o­gist and direc­tor of the clin­i­cal bal­ance and vestibu­lar cen­ter at Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear, said he is not sur­prised by such com­plaints giv­en that people’s sense of bal­ance is achieved by the sen­so­ry inputs from the eyes, ears, and mus­cles. If any of these sense con­flict — for exam­ple, your eyes feel as though you are mov­ing because you are look­ing at zoom­ing icons, but your body says you are stand­ing still — you can feel momen­tar­i­ly unbal­anced. For those prone to motion sick­ness, the unsteady feel­ing can get worse before it gets bet­ter.

Rauch said that if smart­phone users start to feel queasy from using their device, they should sim­ply close their eyes, look else­where, and try to reset their sen­so­ry sys­tem.

For all the prob­lems smart­phones can cause, the devices may be a boon for those who have trou­ble read­ing menus at restau­rants or far­away signs at air­ports, pro­vid­ing more sup­port than strain.

Gang Luo, an asso­ciate sci­en­tist at Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear, has cre­at­ed a free iPhone app, called Super­Vi­sion Mag­ni­fi­er, that helps mag­ni­fy images and pro­vide extra light by using the phone’s cam­era. This app, among oth­ers avail­able on the mar­ket, also has an “image sta­bi­liza­tion” fea­ture so that the enlarged type or images, such as from a menu or mag­a­zine, don’t seem to move around.

He said he is also work­ing on cre­at­ing a device that could be attached to smart­phones, enabling users to take pho­tos of far­away signs, and then read the signs on the smart­phone as if the sign had been near­by.

For those with seri­ous vision prob­lems, he is also work­ing on an inven­tion that would enable the smart­phone, while placed in an individual’s pock­et, to send off an alarm if it detects the per­son is about to col­lide with some­thing.

He said these pro­posed new uses of smart phones can be par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful for peo­ple with lim­it­ed dis­tance or periph­er­al vision, such as those with mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion and dia­bet­ic retinopa­thy.

Luo said he knows that soci­ety often focus­es on the obses­sive aspects of every­day smart­phone use, but he and oth­er sci­en­tists look at the tech­nol­o­gy as a way to enhance vision.



August 14th, 2017|Comments Off on How Tiny Screens May Hurt Your Eyes

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