Are smart phones going to make our children cross-eyed?

 

Every kid I know has either an iPad or an iPhone– even my eight-year-old has his own iPod and with the responsibility of all this technology comes stress for us parents.

We worry about cyber-bullying, we worry about what our kids will come across online but do we ever stop and wonder what psychically all these devices are doing to our children?

Are our children going cross-eyed? Image via IStock.

A concerning study has shown that excessive use of smart phones by children is causing them to become cross-eyed.

Australian children spend more time on their devices than watching television or socialising with friends, so it is no surprise to hear it might be hurting their health.

A new study has linked the overuse of smart phones and a condition called convergent strabismus – where a patient's eyes gradually moves inwards until the person is eventually cross-eyed.

The Telegraph reports that doctors at Chonnam National University Hospital in Seoul said the condition – previously rare in South Korean children previously (a more common genetic condition in the West) found children were increasingly getting the condition.

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The South Korean study is based on 12 children aged between seven and 16 and who used mobile phones between four and eight hours a day.

Australian children spend more time on screens than playing with friends. Via IStock.

It’s the latest worrying study for parents who read story after story about the ill effects of too much screen time.

But is it yet another worry we need to add to the list?

Luke Arundel from Optometry Australia told Mamamia that Australian parents need to be mindful of children’s use of smart phones and other screen based devices.

He said the study has a very small sample size, so caution is needed before racing to any conclusions claiming screen use causes strabismus.

“It is quite possible,” Mr Arundel said. “If these children already had an underlying binocular vision condition - a problem with the muscles controlling how the two eyes move and focus together as a team - that the strain from focusing up close for extended periods of time would cause the problem to manifest or become more noticeable.”

Half of the world’s population is projected to be shortsighted by 2050. Via IStock.

Mr Arundel said whether or not this translates we need to be mindful of our children’s screen time in regards to their eye health.

“Recent research is showing that children who spend more time indoors  -whether reading books, smartphones or on computers- are more at risk of becoming shortsighted or myopic."

In the past 15 years in Australia myopia rates in 17 year olds have risen from 20 to 31%. Mr Arundel said that half of the world’s population is projected to be shortsighted by 2050.

In the long term this issue is not just about having to wear glasses. He says children with high levels of shortsightedness are more pre-disposed to developing glaucoma, cataracts, macula degeneration and retinal detachment – problems that can cause irreversible blindness.

As a quick tip Mr Arundel told Mamamia to make this the number one screen time rule:

“For a handy and accessible guide to what distance kids should be holding a book or screen device: I would suggest parents to tell their children to make a fist, stick that on their chin and hold the book or phone as far away as their elbow.”

One doctor, Jim Kokkinakis of The Eye Practice in Sydney told News Limited last year that he fits blue light blocking filters to all children’s prescription glasses and strongly recommends non-prescription lenses for any child who spends any time in front of a screen saying the potential harm to children is too great to ignore

“There is no downside to protection against blue light but there are potential downsides in not doing it,” he said.

Tips for helping your kid’s eye health.

• Get them outdoors. Optometry Australia recommends that all parents try and balance ‘screen time’ with ‘green time’

• Parents should show their children the right distance to hold a device - they should make a fist, stick that on their chin and hold the book or phone as far away as their elbow.

• Limit screen time to no more than one hour a day for young children.

• Teach your kids to blink and encourage them to take frequent screen breaks.

• Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Stand up from your desk every 20 minutes, look into the distance for 20 seconds and blink 20 times.

 

Optometry Australia says that parents should watch for the following signs:

  • One eye turning in or out while the other points straight ahead
  • Covering or closing one eye
  • Squinting
  • Excessive blinking
  • Red eyes
  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Holding a book or smartphone very close to read
  • Complaints of headaches or blurred vision

Any of these problems need a comprehensive eye examination.

To find your local optometrist go here.

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