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Gadgets don’t wreck vision, inactivity does

For more than limiting screen time, just ensure you spend a similar amount of time outdoors doing things other than fiddling with your tablet or smartphone, writes Sanchita Sharma.

columns Updated: Oct 06, 2012 22:34 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

Backlit smartphones, tablets and computers are not wrecking your eyesight. Fears that the over-dependence on gadgets by the super-networked digital generation is affecting your eyes slowly and surely is an urban legend that needs debunking. Most studies show that screen gizmos cause temporary strain and discomfort to the eyes, and you are okay as long as you give your eyes a rest and spend a bigger chunk of your waking time looking at things other than screens.

Technology actually makes life easier for people with weak vision. My parents, for one, love tablets that allow reading distances, gaze angles and text sizes to be readjusted at a touch. Some smart apps — such as the eagerly-awaited GlassesOff by the cheesy-named developers Ucansi — have been shown improve eyesight by training the brain’s visual cortex to boost image processing.

Past research has linked video games with improving vision. Kolkata’s Somen Ghosh’s research shows that playing the hugely popular video-game Unreal Tournament improved the eyesight of 10 to 18-year-olds with ambolyopia or lazy eye. He used a regimen that included gaming along with standard treatment. His study, presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting last year, reported that video gaming improved vision significantly in 30% of the 100 participants, with another 60% showing some improvement. Eyesight improved the most in children played the video game daily and in those who took the supplement citicoline to improve brain function. Though it is believed that lazy eye can be corrected only before children start school, Ghosh’s study showed optimal improvement up to age 14, with some improvement even after that.

Earlier this year, a study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver reported that first-person shooter games improved the eyesight of children born with cataract. Since gamers are expected to respond quickly to action directly ahead and in the periphery of their vision while simultaneously tracking objects in
different directions, playing these games forced the brain to improve image-processing speed and ability. Those who played for 40 hours a month improved enough to read one or two lines further down a standard eye tests chart.

Ideally, mobile phones and tablets should be held one foot away, desktops and laptops at two feet, and televisions at ten feet to minimise eyestrain. But irrespective of your dependence on smartphones, computers, tablets or even good old-fashioned televisions, you must get your eyes examined thoroughly — as opposed to testing by an optometrist for prescription glasses — at age 40. Apart from the possible need for reading glasses, this is the age when silent diseases such as glaucoma, dry eyes and cataract start creeping in. Those with prescription glasses, or have a family history of eye problems or other illnesses such as diabetes, need an annual eye examination, as do people on long-term medication such as steroids or drugs for arthritis and auto-immune diseases.

More than the computer vision syndrome — temporary problems such as dry and tired eyes from focusing the eyes on a display screen for long and uninterrupted periods — poor eyesight is linked to genetics and increased schooling, which lowers daylight exposure and eye’s ability to focus on multiple things at varying distances. Recent epidemiological surveys show that spending time outdoors protects against short-sightedness, which is affecting nine in 10 children in South-east and East Asian countries such as Singapore, China and South Korea because of increased schooling and deskbound activities.

For more than limiting screen time, just ensure you spend a similar — if not equal — amount of time outdoors doing things other than fiddling with your tablet or smartphone.

First Published: Oct 06, 2012 22:32 IST