Whether we are checking our social media accounts, messaging friends, navigating to an unfamiliar destination or playing games, most of us are never found without our smartphone. In the UK, four out of five adults own a smartphone, an equivalent of 37 million people! Across the world, Statista have estimated that by the end of this year, 2.32 billion of us will own one. But are we really thinking about the impact they have on our vision?
Recently, a 21-year-old woman from China, who goes under the pseudonym Wu Xiaojing partially lost her eyesight after playing a game on her smartphone for up to 24 hours straight! Hours into her gaming session, Wu lost her sight in her right eye suddenly, and was rushed to several hospitals in Nancheng, eventually being diagnosed with Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO).
What is Retinal Artery Occlusion?
RAO is a blockage in one of the small arteries or veins that carry blood to the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that senses light; the retina. Just like a blocked blood flow in other parts of the body can lead to a stroke, your eye can also be damaged. A loss of blood flow in the eye means that nutrients and oxygen are blocked from reaching vital structures such as the optic nerve and the retina, which as a result can impair your vision.
Most of these blockages are commonly found in elderly people, however the following conditions can also cause it:
- High blood pressure
- Atrial Fibrillation - heart rhythm problem
- Hyperlipidemia - high levels of fat in the blood
- Carotid Artery Disease - When two large blood vessels in the neck become narrowed or blocked
So do we need to give up on the smartphone for good?
Luckily, no. RAO remains relatively rare, with an estimated incidence of around 1 in 100,000 each year. Founder of Focus Clinic and laser-eye surgery expert Dr. David Allamby spoke to the Daily Mail, saying there was a “slim” chance Wu developed RAO from playing games on her mobile, and that the only potential link — and it's slim — is that sometimes migraines can be a rare cause of RAO.
Besides having an eye exam to detect signs of an eye occlusion, you'll also need your family doctor or internal medicine physician to evaluate you for high blood pressure, artery disease or heart problems that may be responsible for the blockage.
But whilst it is unlikely to lose your sight from staring at your smartphone, here are some top tips on how to protect your sight when using these devices:
- Take regular breaks around every 20 minutes - let yourself stare at something else that is at least 20 feet away and do it for at least 20 seconds. It is often known as the 20-20-20 rule and will help prevent eye strain and give your eyes a quick rest!
- Remember to blink! Normally we blink about 15 times a minute, but this number drops to half this amount when we are glued to those small screens
- Remind yourself to relax your muscles! When we are concentrating on our phones we often don’t realise that our facial, neck and shoulder muscles begin to tighten, so be sure to take regular breaks and get those muscles nice and relaxed
All of these tips are especially important to think about for children, who may be excited about having their first smartphone, wanting to go on it all the time and forgetting their eyes need a rest.
If you notice your vision is not returning to normal you should visit your eye doctor and share your concerns. It is important to keep up to date with comprehensive optometry appointments to ensure you are keeping your vision clear and healthy.
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