Is our smartphone addiction damaging our eye sight?

According to Ofcom, 93% of UK adults own/use a mobile. And it’ll probably come as no surprise to learn that the average age a child gets their first mobile phone is 11 – the age they start secondary school.

For most 11-year olds, their first mobile phone is much more than a link back to anxious parents, it’s a little sign of independence. A conduit to friends and social media and, of course, a barometer of just how cool they are.

But should we be worried? Is there a danger that using mobile phones so much – and so early – is bad for our kids’ long-term ocular health?

Long-term damage to the eyes?

Reports that protracted use of mobile phones could cause long-term damage to our eyes started doing the rounds in the mid-2000s. They’re still doing the rounds now. Only 10 years later, they’re backed up by evidence, not anecdotal concerns.

Why screens are bad for our eyes

There are two big problems: first, staring at screens slows the blinking reflex. That makes eyes drier and more tired. The second problem is blue violet and ultraviolet light. Our optician, Andrew explains, “Our eyes are particularly susceptible to light in the blue range of the spectrum. It reaches deeper into our eyes and can be quite damaging. There’s plenty of blue light in sunlight, of course. If we get too much, it can damage the backs of our eyes.”

“Visible light is one thing. But we also have to worry about the light we can’t see, particularly UV light, which can affect the front of our eyes. Unfortunately we can’t quite get away from UV light these days – it’s everywhere. The light from an LED screen, for example, contains about 35% harmful blue light.”

Mobile dependency

Of course we’re so much more dependent on our phones than we were ten years ago. And we’re used to the daily bombardment of emails, tweets and status updates. The new research suggests that under-25s check their phones 32 times a day. It’s habitual; some would say compulsive behaviour.

Nearly half of the under-25s who took part in the research admitted they felt genuine irritation, or actual anxiety, if they were unable to check their mobile whenever they wanted to.

Staring at screens

It’s not just mobiles that are bad for our eyes; we’re spending longer staring at PCs, laptops, tablets and flat screen TVs… our eyes never get a break.

More Ofcom statistics for you: the average time we spend online – just on PCs and laptops – is now 36 hours and 49 minutes per month. Factor in TV time and mobile/tablet use and we’re putting more and more stress on our eyes.

It’s worrying. As optometrists we’re seeing more and more young people complaining of headaches.

Of course this isn’t just a problem for the under-25s. We’re all getting increasingly dependent on our mobile devices. And we’re all putting the long-term health of our eyes at risk.

So what can we do about it?

  • Take more breaks. If you have to use a PC, laptop or tablet all day, make sure you give yourself time away from the screen. Five or ten minutes of every hour is best. That’s also give you the chance to get up and walk around a bit too.
  • Have a proper day off once in a while. Try a screen-free Sunday.
  • Get your eyes tested. Regular check-ups will help ensure that your eyes stay healthy. If there any problems developing, your optician can do something about them.

So, it’s over to you – how long can you manage without your mobile?