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The Blurry Myths of Myopia
Written by Katherine Lee | Published. 2021.04.07 19:30 | Count : 699

Visiting the eye doctor to check one’s eyesight is a common practice for children and adults alike. Many of us are unpleasantly surprised at how bad our eyesight has become at such visits, and it is not uncommon for doctors to tell even young children to start wearing glasses. Today, it is widely believed that the ubiquitous electronic devices substantially contribute to the generally worsening eyesight of people, especially the younger generation. But, are they really the culprit?

Ever since the advent of electronic devices in the computer age, notebooks, smartphones, tablets, and the like, the excessive use of these electronic devices, or “screen time,” has been the focus of many parents and experts concerned about how it affects the mental and physical health of teenagers. Debates continue as to from what age children should be exposed to digital devices, whether or not children should even be exposed to screen time at all, and to what extent screens are harmful to young children and adolescents. Many experts and studies in the past raised alarms about how screen time may adversely affect the behavior and development of children and teenagers, as the New York Times article “Is Screen Time Bad for Kids’ Brains?” notes. Because the nature of these electronics, and the mobile games and social media sites that come with it, are quite addictive, parents and experts worry that this could take a toll on even the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities of adolescents.

[Child taking eyesight test. https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/child-eye-test-eye-exam-little-girl-having-eye-check-up-with-phoropter-doctor-performs-eye-test-child_11161501.htm]

But what about the impact of excessive screen time on our physical health – particularly for our eyes? Aside from the conventional wisdom among parents that too much screen time is bad for eyesight, there have been various studies and news articles suggesting that increased screen time is wreaking havoc on our precious eyes. One such article published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology raised concern over the “increased digital screen time, near work and limited outdoor activities.” Moreover, increased dependence on electronic devices during the COVID period could take a long-term toll on childhood optic development. Experts cited in the article note that raising awareness among parents, children and government agencies is key to mitigating myogenic behaviors that may become established during this period.

To find out more, I interviewed an ophthalmologist, Dr. Young-A Kwon, M.D. Dr. Kwon studied medicine at Yonsei University Medical School and at the University of California, San Diego, and currently practices at Kim’s Eye Hospital in Seoul.

[Interview with Dr. Young-A Kwon, M.D. Photo by Katherine Lee]

Dr. Kwon noted that the increased screen time resulting from social distancing and online education is leading to a “myopia boom.” “While over 50% of the causes of myopia are genetic factors, electronics usage time is among the most important of the remaining environmental factors.” Many automatically assume that so-called “blue light” emitted from electronic screens are particularly harmful to eyesight, thus why electronics usage time is such a significant contributing factor. However, Dr. Kwon’s view was that it is not yet scientifically proven that exposure to blue light definitively impairs one’s eyesight. While it is true that blue light is on the short-wavelength side of the sunlight spectrum and thus is high-energy, and that such blue light is said to have caused retinal optic nerve damage in mice, such effect of blue light has not been conclusively proven in human studies. Nevertheless, Dr. Kwon agrees it is possible that blue light will increase our eyes’ fatigue levels and lead to dryness of the eyes. To prevent such adverse reactions, Dr. Kwon recommends taking a 10 minute break after every 50 minutes of screen time. During such breaks, you are to consciously blink your eyes to generate tears and thus lubricate your eyes. (When we are concentrating on a screen, our eyes blink less and thus generate less tears.) And aside from just managing screen time, it would be good to generally reduce “near work” and spend time outdoors whenever possible.

Screen time in the lives of today’s adolescents are almost inevitable, as electronics are now considered educational and day-to-day necessities. Results drawn from the studies above show that the threat of excessive screen time exposing young people to inefficient critical thinking habits and mental dispositions could contribute more to optic myopia than one might expect. But there’s still hope—by adopting eye exercises like the one Dr. Kwon suggests and staying active outdoors, children and teenagers can take initiative in reducing the risk of severe myopia.






Katherine Lee
Grade 11
Seoul International School

Katherine Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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