Optometry Practice

Christl Huber M.D.
Optometry · Natural Medicine

More Digital Media + Less Time Outdoors = Increase in Myopia?

The trend has been unmistakable for a number of years: children spend more time indoors with digital media and exercise less outdoors. Lockdown and distance teaching have made this situation worse. Children and adolescents sit at home in front of computers, tablets and smartphones, while being outdoors with exercise, playing, and sports is reduced. This is not only bad for fitness, social contact, and the psyche but also for the eyes.

Myopia epidemic

For a long time, eye specialists worldwide have observed that myopia is increasing in children. The reason for this is the increasing use of displays and the associated stay indoors. Numerous studies have shown in the last few years that the combination of increased use of smartphones, tablets and computers and less time spent outdoors obviously leads to an increase in myopia in children. This connection has solidified with the lockdown. Ophthalmologists are already talking about a myopia epidemic.

Myopia is congenital AND acquired

Myopia develops in childhood. The eyeball is longer than normal. For a longtime it was believed that myopia was purely genetic. It is now known that myopia can also be caused by environmental factors. The more time children spend outdoors, the lower is the development of myopia. The natural daylight and the constant change of sight in different distances and directions have a positive effect on the development of the eyes. In addition, peripheral vision is trained during exercise, games and sports.

Daylight is good for the eyes - blue display light, however, is not

Even with a cloudy sky or in the shade, the natural solar spectrum has a high light intensity of around 10,000 lux, while the light intensity is only around 500 to 1,000 lux even with good indoor lighting. Digital displays are often part of the lighting. Scientists suspect that daylight stimulates the release of dopamine and has a regulating effect on the growth of the eyeball.

In contrast to natural daylight, the blue light component of digital displays stimulates the length growth of the eyeball. In addition, staring at screens always in the same distance and direction tires the eyes. If smartphones and other computer screens are used in the evening, this has a negative effect on the biorhythm. The blue light of the screens suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Digital media in the evening lead to increased sleep disorders and sleep deficits. Myopia mainly develops in early childhood. It is particularly important to limit the use of digital media up to around the age of 14-16.

Recommendation for children up to 10 years:

  • If possible, no screen viewing for up to 3 years
  • Up to 6 years of age no more than 30 minutes a day
  • Up to 10 years no more than 1 hour a day
  • From the age of 10 up to 2 hours are recommended

Tips for older children and teenagers:

  • 10 minutes break after 1 hour working with digital media
  • Get up, walk around, relax eyes
  • Look up from the screen and look at other objects as often as possible
  • After 2 hours, take a 15 - 20 minute break and go outside
  • Stop using digital media for 2 hours before bed

Out into the outdoors

Studies have shown that about 40 minutes of outdoor exercise per day can significantly reduce the increase in myopia. The recommendation for children and adolescents is, if possible, 2 hours of sport, play and romping outdoors in natural daylight.

Check the eyes of children at an early stage

Myopia must be diagnosed and corrected as early as possible so that good vision can develop. Eye exams in children should be performed annually from 6 months of age. Many pediatricians have an electronic measuring device with which an ametropia can be determined easily and without applying eyedrops. This examination can be done during the regular checkups. The ophthalmologist then accurately measures the ametropia.

Increase of myopia in children is avoidable with:

  • Controlled media consumption
  • Adequate exercise outdoors
  • Early eye exams