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Eyes and iPads

May, 2012
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In early 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs released the world’s first tablet PC – the iPad. This spring, Apple will release the third generation of iPads, which are sweeping the world like a tide and putting an “Apple” in the hands of people of all ages. With tablet computers and smartphones come electronic games, puzzles, videos and pre-school applications that have captured the hearts and eyes of children. With this increase in opportunities for visual usage, can you blame parents for worrying whether their children’s vision will be affected?


Do electronic screens cause near-sightedness?

First, let’s talk about the tablet computer’s connection to myopia (near-sightedness). Scientists have produced no conclusive findings about this connection. In recent years, several studies have shown that the most important cause of myopia is genetics. If both parents are myopic, the child is four times more likely to be near-sighted. If one parent is myopic, the child is twice as likely to be near-sighted. Myopia has gradually become more prevalent around the world.  

Many parents worry that their children will harm their eyes by watching TV or playing on the computer too much. To date, there has not been a rigorous investigation into how or whether computer or TV screens impact vision. The fact is that anything you visually focus on within 50 cm of your eyes – whether books, television, computers, art, even embroidery – will cause the eyes to tire and eventually become fatigued.


The biology of myopia

When we start focusing our vision closer and closer to our noses, our lines of sight converge, and the part of our eyes called “the lens” starts to lose its original shape. These processes are involuntary but inevitable if you use your eye muscles to force your eyes to focus for long periods of time without relaxing.


Alleviating eye strain

iPads and e-books have special display technology that simulates real ink or that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness according to ambient light. To a certain extent, this technology can help reduce eye strain while reading. We can also use the following approaches to alleviate visual fatigue and prevent myopia:

1) Try doing some eye massages by pressing on pressure points around the eye.

2) Relax the eye muscles. Every 20 minutes spent on a computer should be rewarded with a 20-second break during which you focus on something 5 or more meters away.

3) Adjust the height of the screen so that it is between 5 and 40 degrees below eye level.

4) Adjust the brightness of the screen so that it does not contrast too much with the environmental brightness around you.

5) Make yourself blink periodically.

6) Adjust text on your computer so that your eyes feel comfortable when you read.

7) If you need to, wear progressive lenses for focusing on objects at various distances.


How much screen time is appropriate?

After learning that electronic screens themselves do not have a direct impact on vision, (it’s time and distance, not the screen itself), parents started asking the next question: how much time should I allow my child to watch TV or play on the computer? There’s no standard answer to this question. Vision and visual development depends on genes, the child’s environment, stress, outdoor activities and a host of other things. Just remember that moderation is the key to health. Figure out screen time boundaries that are acceptable for you and for your children.


Visiting the eye doctor

Finally, I would like to remind parents to bring their children in for an eye checkup every six months. School-aged children have a heavier academic burden and, therefore, spend more time staring at things close to their noses.

If you have any questions about eye care and health, you can make an appointment with Dr. Chen or another BJU ophthalmologist at (010) 5927 7039.


By Sherry Chen, MD

Ophthalmologist, Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics (BJU)

Translated and edited by Christina Liao and Wang Zizhang 

Originally published on Dr. Chen’s blog entitled “我眼中的你的眸” (http://blog.sina.com.cn/drxuer)


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