New research suggests that electronic screens are the root cause behind the global rise in nearsightedness (aka myopia).
This study, conducted at King's College London, shows that increased smartphone usage keeps the eyes in a state of perpetual growth. Ophthalmologists say a healthy human eye should stop growing once a person reaches their late teens. Unfortunately, most people's eyes nowadays continue to grow well into adulthood.
Andrew Bastawrous, the celebrity eye surgeon who created the PEEK app, told reporters he believes it's undeniable that smartphones are contributing to the recent myopia boom. As to the reason why smartphones cause the eyes to continue growing, Bastawrous said, "More near-plane reading activity with smartphones…is encouraging the eye to become myopic to meet that environmental need."
Eye doctors suspected smartphones and computer screens were contributing to increased myopia rates, but they didn't have any hard evidence before this study. Ophthalmologists hope that more research will help the general population better understand the health risks of extended smartphone use.
Although increased smartphone use has been linked to the rapid rise of myopia, there are other important contributing factors. Study authors note that an increasingly urban and sedentary lifestyle could contribute to nearsightedness. Also, more people in the industrialized world have jobs that require a ton of "near work" (i.e. reading and writing). This kind of work tends to put a ton of strain on the eye muscles.
Another major reason more and more children are being diagnosed with myopia has to do with a lack of natural sunlight. Today's children spend far too little time outside getting natural Vitamin D from the sun's healing rays. As Bastawrous put it, "Many people no longer spend time looking at the stars…they're looking at screens more often instead."
Eye doctors are certain that the recent myopia boom is not related to natural aging. There is, however, debate as to whether or not the myopia boom pre-dates the computer age.
For those who didn't know, myopic eyes are abnormally elongated, which makes objects far away from the retina look blurry. People who have severe myopia when they are young are at a higher risk for both glaucoma and retinal detachment.
The King's College study also showed that at least half of the people in the United Kingdom between 25-29 years old are myopic. Researchers also found that one in four people across Europe have some degree of nearsightedness.
While those European numbers are bad, they're nothing compared to myopia rates in Asia. A staggering 80 percent of young people in nations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore have myopia. Research into why Asian people suffer from myopia more than other races is still ongoing.
Andrew Bastawrous is well known in the eye community for his cost-effective ophthalmic tool called PEEK. Bastawrous designed this app to help people living in third world countries get the quality eye care they need. Just a few places Bastawrous has worked include Sri Lanka, Peru, and Sierra Leone. He currently resides in Kenya and is both a research fellow at the International Centre for Eye Health and a 2014 TED Fellow.