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Smart Phones Can be Hard on the Eyes

The communication convenience of smart phones has changed the way we use them.  These high-tech devices function more like a hand-held computer than a simple phone, allowing us to not only talk and text, but to access email, browse the internet, review documents, catch up on the news, get directions, play games and engage in many other useful and entertaining activities.

The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind, according to data just released by the Pew Research Institute, but according to a research published in Optometry and Vision Science, our eyes may be paying a price for the convenience of this technology.

Researchers with SUNY State College of Optometry in New York found that people reading text messages or browsing the Internet on their smart phones tend to hold the devices closer than they would a book or newspaper, which forces the eyes to work harder.  Reading at the closer distance required by the small device, combined with the tiny font sizes on smart phones, creates a significant strain on the eyes.

Trying to read on tiny smart phone screens can cause many of the same symptoms as computer vision syndrome, including headaches, eye fatigue, focusing problems, burning, dryness, blurred vision and light sensitivity. With smart phones, the symptoms are often worse.  Because the phones are backlit and portable, people tend to use them in places they wouldn’t normally try to read, such as dimly lit restaurants, dark movie theaters or while riding in a car.  In these situations, glare contributes to the problem.

The research is something both smart phone users and eye doctors should be aware of. Users can minimize eye strain risk by:

  • increasing the font size on their devices
  • using a magnifier application
  • avoiding extended use
  • being conscious of how close you are holding the device to your eyes.

Eye doctors can help by asking patients about their smart phone use and any symptoms of eye strain they might be having. If problems are found, they can then help them adjust their viewing habits on the devices and/or adjust their prescription if needed to minimize strain.

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