Nearsightedness on the rise – could screen time have an impact?

In today’s world, almost everyone has a device at their fingertips. Americans spend a good portion of their day scrolling social media, spending hours staring at their phones. Unfortunately, the increasingly digital world we live in may have an impact on our eyes.

Myopia – also known as nearsightedness – is on the rise, affecting more than 40% of all Americans and 36% of children nationwide. By 2050, it is projected that 50% of people worldwide will be nearsighted. Not only does myopia affect our ability to clearly see objects that are far away, it’s also been linked to developing more serious eye conditions later in life, like cataracts and glaucoma.

Lori Archer is the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision and a board member of the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition. In this Q&A, she shares important information on how myopia is affecting our eyes and ways in which we can work to preserve our eye health.

Why is myopia awareness so important?

We live in a digital world, and while myopia can be a hereditary condition, there’s no question increased use of screens, especially at a close range and for long periods of time, is having an impact on our eye health. Research shows there is a 80% higher risk of nearsightedness for children who spend significant time on smartphones and computers. And since about 80% of classroom learning is visual, the inability to see clearly may affect their academic performance and their physical, emotional and social development.

Can you expand on how digital devices and blue light may affect vision?

On average, Americans spend seven hours a day looking at some kind of screen. That statistic has only grown as many workplaces have moved to remote work models and rely heavily on daily technology. Excessive exposure to blue light can lead to more problems with your overall eye health. 

Some of those eye health implications include disrupted sleep and digital eye strain.

What can people do to support and protect their vision?

It’s important to watch for warning signs. When it comes to nearsightedness, some early symptoms include:

  • Far away objects appearing blurry
  • Squinting to see properly
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches

Parents and caretakers should pay close attention to signs in their kids, like frequent squinting, head tilting to read or watch TV, frequent eye rubbing, losing their place while reading or constant blinking.

Here are some tips to help protect your eyes:

  • If you can, reduce your risk by reducing exposure to blue light. That means keeping your device at least 30 inches from your eyes.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule – meaning after every 20 minutes of screen time, take 20 seconds to look at something that’s approximately 20 feet away.
  • Consider using a screen protector that filters blue light.
  • Get outside and away from digital devices.

For parents and caretakers, it’s important to schedule comprehensive eye exams for your children, even if they have vision screenings at school.

If you think you’re experiencing any signs of myopia, it’s important to get an eye exam. While myopia isn’t curable, eyeglasses or contacts may help you see more clearly.

UnitedHealthcare Vision members have access to prescription eyewear through a broad network of care providers and locations nationwide. Members may also have access to blue light protection for children and adults, including discounts on Eyesafe® Blue Light Screen Protectors as well as the Children’s Eye Care Program, which provides enhanced benefits for children up to age 13 at no additional cost. 

Additionally, UnitedHealthcare Vision recently joined the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition, which seeks to promote awareness of myopia in children as a treatable disease and advocate for the use of proven interventions.

Learn more information on eye health and vision resources.

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