You’re reading these words on a screen, either on your computer or phone. Even if you’re currently outside in a big open field, at this moment you are focusing on the tiny words on the tiny device in your hand; more likely you are inside your office building or on your couch at home. I’m as guilty as anyone of spending too much time staring at screens, so I’m not judging, but it turns out all this devotion to our favorite devices might be a little shortsighted, because they might be making us all nearsighted.
A new study in Ophthalmology says that by 2050 half of the world’s population will suffer from myopia, also known as nearsightedness, also known as the reason I have to ask strangers to read signs for me that are far away.
Researchers analyzed “data from 145 studies covering 2.1 million participants” and found that in the year 2000 roughly 1.4 billion people had myopia (23% of the world population) with another 163 million people suffering from high myopia (2.7% of the world population). They predict that by the year 2050 there will be over 4.7 billion people with nearsightedness (basically 50% of the entire human race) and an additional 938 million people with high myopia (almost 10%). That’s a dramatic increase in only 50 years. So what could cause that much eye damage?
You probably have some pretty good guesses.
They say the increases “are widely considered to be driven by environmental factors (nurture), principally lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased near work activities.” Translation: we are putting a lot of strain and pressure on our eyes by spending too much time inside looking at screens or focused on work. So yes, all that time on your phone is hurting your eyes just like you feared, but so is just being enclosed by four walls.
They note that instances of myopia are higher in “so-called high-pressure educational systems, especially at very young ages in countries such as Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and China,” because students there tend to spend more time studying. (Don’t tell your kids that though because they’ll just use it as another excuse not to do their homework.)
For those who deal with normal nearsightedness, glasses or contacts can correct that (and can be quite stylish). The real worry is for the people who develop the more severe type of myopia, because it can lead to a number of much more serious, and permanent, problems. “High myopia increases the risk of pathologic ocular changes such as cataract, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and myopic macular degeneration, all of which can cause irreversible vision loss.”
They do admit that their study has limitations, such as a “paucity of prevalence data in many countries and age groups,” an “uncertainty” of estimates from data extrapolation, the unknown changes that will take place over the time period, and even differing standards for how myopia is defined. These issues are why they say their predictions are actually conservative.
Nonetheless, when they say “the number of people with vision loss resulting from high myopia would increase 7-fold from 2000 to 2050, and myopia would become a leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide,” we probably shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the growing problem. To combat these issues the study says it will require a “concerted effort by government, education, and health systems.”
In the meantime, it’s not hard to see what you can do to help yourself.
Leave your phone at home and go go outside. Stare at the horizon. Admire some clouds. Take a literal hike. Eat a sandwich. (That last one won’t help your eyes, but you gotta enjoy life, you know?)
What could you do specifically to help take the strain off your eyes? Before you head out the door, tell us in the comments below.
HT: Popular Science
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