Smartphones, computers, tablets, and televisions are being blamed for a sharp increase in teenagers’ need for eyeglasses in the United Kingdom. The number of teens who need glasses nearly doubled, from 20% in 2012 to 35% in just four years later.1 Myopia was the diagnosis for 66% of these teens. Myopia, or nearsightedness, makes distant objects look blurry. Excessive up-close focusing is a risk factor for developing myopia.
Myopia Refraction Error
Nearsightedness generally develops in childhood and stabilizes in teenagers. The eyeball becomes too long. Similar to a projector, light from the eye focuses on the retina. With nearsightedness, the light focuses in front of the retina, not on it. Sometimes the cornea is misshapen.
Tiny muscles in the eye are supposed to refine focus. The cornea is fixed, but the lens is flexible and should compensate to provide sharp vision. However, researchers have found a strong association between close-up focusing and myopia. For example, in some Asian cities, a very high child and teen myopia rate coincides with excessive studying indoors. Children are not spending enough time outdoors in sunlight.
The teens in the report spent about 26 hours a week on TV, video games, and smartphones. They were aged 13 to 16. Presumably, they were also in school five days a week.
Detection and Treatment
Nearsightedness is detected easily during an eye exam. However, 26% of the parents in the survey had never taken their child for an eye exam. Children should get an annual eye exam. They may not notice their own vision changes.
For the teen, myopia is typically treated with prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. Corrective lenses are needed indefinitely.
Nearsightedness that goes undetected or untreated can lead to headaches, eye strain, and lower school performance. Teens are especially sensitive to feelings of isolation that untreated poor vision can bring.
- Scrivens Opticians report, 2019 ↩