Growing numbers of people in their 20s and 30s are reporting vision trouble. The cause is spending too much time staring at small screens. Staring too much at tiny details in the confined space of a small screen results in a condition known as presbyopia, a term derived from Greek words meaning “old eye.” The condition may soon need a new colloquial name, perhaps “smartphone eyes.”

Eye clinics around Tokyo report an increase of young people suffering from such symptoms as difficulty focusing on nearby objects and switching focus on objects at different distances. A survey by the eyeglass industry found that the number of young people reporting such symptoms of presbyopia increased from 0.5 percent in 2012 to 6.7 percent in 2013.

Japanese smartphone ownership increased roughly from 40 percent to 60 percent during the same period. In a report from South Korea, people in their 30s with presbyopia more than doubled over the past five years, as smartphones, tablet and laptop computers, electronic books and car navigation systems proliferated, just as they have in Japan. Though an exact causal connection has not been proven, concentrating on a smartphone screen can cause the ciliary muscles that focus the crystalline lens to lose function.

It is too simplistic to say smartphones directly cause presbyopia. However, doctors and clinics have found that the onset of such symptoms, which generally used to be in the mid-40s, is now starting much earlier. Other reports have found that other eye troubles, such as dry eye, fatigue and pseudomyopia (temporary nearsightedness), have also increased. As more young people acquire smartphones, and use them for longer periods, such symptoms are likely to increase. Overusing them in variable or poor lighting can make the effects even worse.

It’s not just smartphones either. Other devices such as tablets and small computers can have a similar detrimental effect on eyesight. Young people in particular need to understand that overusing small gadgets can have serious effects on their eyesight over the long-term.

The good news is that the remedy for relieving screen-related eyestrain is simple — reduce the time spent staring at such devices. When that’s not possible, then short breaks should be taken to relieve the tension in the eyes caused by reading small screens. Doctors recommend releasing it by focusing on distant objects every 20 minutes or so. Workplaces should encourage employees with computer-intensive jobs to take such breaks. In addition, blinking frequently to keep the eyes moist, enlarging text size, keeping device screens clean to reduce glare and adjusting their brightness to match the surrounding light can also help to reduce eyestrain.

Parents in particular should make efforts to ensure their children do not to spend too much time staring at their phones and computers since studying already exerts significant eyestrain.

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