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Surgeon David Allamby FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth
 David Allamby


Dry Eye Disease: An Increase of the Disease in Children Linked to Smartphone Use

Learn more about vision correction


Have you ever experienced pain, irritation or dryness in your eyes without any real explanation? Or, ever had sore and uncomfortable eyes after a screen-filled day at work and put it down to being tired? You could be one of 300 million people who suffer from periods of dry eye disease.

What is it?

Linked closely to blepharitis and conjunctivitis, dry-eye disease, or dry-eye syndrome, occurs when the eye does not adequately produce tears or they evaporate too quickly. Tears are fundamental for overall eye health and clear vision, they bathe the surface of the eye keeping it moist, and wash away any dust or debris. Tears also help to protect the eye from bacterial and other infections.

Other names for dry eye include keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), dysfunctional tear syndrome, lacrimal keratoconjunctivitis, evaporative tear deficiency, aqueous tear deficiency, and LASIK-induced neurotrophic epitheliopathy (LNE).

The symptoms usually affect both eyes and may include any of the following;

  • Stinging, itching or burning of the eye
  • A gritty feeling as if something is in the eye
  • Episodes of excess tears
  • Pain and redness
  • Episodes of temporary blurred vision
  • Heavy Eyelids
  • Discharge from the eye

What are the causes?

The usual causes of dry eye include any of the following:

  • A side effect of some medications
  • Hormonal changes in women (such as during the menopause, pregnancy, or while using the contraceptive pill)
  • Skin disease on or around the eyelids
  • Allergies
  • Being in a hot or windy climate
  • Infrequent blinking, associated with staring at computer or video screens
  • Wearing contact lenses

Causes in children - smartphones

The condition can affect people of any age with the chances increasing as you grow older, and more commonly in women than men. But, alarmingly, a study has found that there has been an increase of the disease in children. Just as in adults dry eye in children can be irritating and painful and, in severe cases, affect vision.

The BMC Opthalmology discovered the link between children suffering with dry eye and the use of smartphones. In their article they discovered the use of display terminals (screens) for long hours has been associated with a decreased maximum blink interval, hence the development of dry eye symptoms. Longer periods of infrequent blinking has been highlighted as one of the main causes of dry eye.

Children aged 5 to 16 spend a staggering 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen, and when compared to the three hours in 1995, according to market research firm Childwise, is a dramatic increase. The increase may be connected to multi-screening, where children use multiple devices at the same time.

The increase of the digital environment dominating children’s lives has seen the introduction of Screen Free Week (SFW); a fun way to reduce dependence on digital entertainment, including television, video games, smartphones, tablets, and computers. It’s a chance for children—and adults—to power down and reconnect with the world around them.

Treatment for children

Specialists believe dry eye is significantly under-diagnosed and under-treated in children. The symptoms can have a strong impact on children’s lives; making it more difficult for them to perform at school and to do activities such as reading and using a computer.

Caring for dry eye in usual cases (not linked to smartphone usage) includes the following:

  • Eye drops to lubricate and soothe sore eyes
  • Medications to reduce inflammation
  • Keeping eyelids clean and protecting them from dusty, smoky, windy or dry environments
  • Talking to your doctor about the introduction of nutritional supplements/vitamins of omega-3 and omega-7 fatty acids to work as an anti-inflammatory

Further advice for preventing the disease in children includes keeping daytime screen usage within healthy limits, no screens an hour before bedtime and no single screen session over two hours.

For more articles on laser eye surgery, eye health and vision, click here.

By: David
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