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“Extended screen time drying out teens eyes: One News”

New research from Auckland University has investigated screen use and dry eye disease in young people, finding an association that is driven by altered blinking mechanisms. Researcher Alex Muntz said the findings were replicated in studies elsewhere, and that it also confirmed doctors’ reports that they were seeing more young people with the condition.

Dry eye disease, previously considered a disease of the elderly, occurs when the surface of the eye has an insufficient tear film (or excessive tear evaporation) leading to areas of dryness and permanent, irreversible damage to the surface of the eye. Dry eye is a debilitating and painful condition which reduces quality of life, and puts a significant economic burden on countries due to both direct and indirect costs such as loss of productivity.

Previous research has shown a dose-dependent relationship between screen use and dry eye disease symptoms in children - that is, the more hours of screen time per day, the greater the number of symptoms.

While One News noted that ‘young people who spend long hours on screens show signs of an eye condition typically seen among the elderly’, the average screen use in participants was 43 hours per week. These ‘long hours’ are fairly standard - New Zealand teens are world leaders when it comes to screen use both at school and in their homes, with 42 hours per week on average before the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily screen use has been found to have significantly increased since this time.

In the study, more than 450 attendees of an Auckland gaming convention responded to a survey and had their blink rate monitored.

“People may not want to hear this right now, when we’re all glued to our screens for work and school, but this may be yet more evidence of the toll from excessive screen time,” Dr Alex Muntz, a research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology, said. These results are replicated in studies elsewhere, confirming doctors’ reports of seeing an increased number of young patients with the condition.”

“Implementing routine clinical screening, educational interventions, and developing official guidance on safe screen use may help prevent an accelerated degradation of ocular surface health and quality of life in young people,” the study recommends.

Developing guidelines for the safe screen use has been a strong message from Sensible Screen Use, to allow children and adolescents to get the best that digital technologies can offer to learning, with lower risk.

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