Researchers from Korea found that children who viewed smartphone screens more than their peers were more likely to develop Dry Eye Disease (DED), a disorder more commonly observed in older people. DED causes discomfort such as burning and stinging, makes contact lens wear difficult or intolerable, and can lead to other ocular problems.
The researchers enrolled 916 children in the study and performed an ocular exam that included a slit lamp exam and tear breakup time. Children and their families answered a questionnaire that asked about video display terminal use and outdoor activity. Children were divided into several groups, such as those with DED symptoms and those without; urban vs. rural; younger grade (1st to 3rd) vs. older grade (4th to 6th).
Overall, urban children showed a higher rate of DED symptoms than the total group, and much higher than rural children. The rate of smartphone use was higher in urban children (61.3 percent) than the rural group (51 percent).
Older children showed a rate of DED symptoms that was higher than the total group, and more than twice as high as that found in younger children. Some 65 percent of older children used smartphones, as compared to 50.9 percent of younger children.
The children with DED symptoms were not allowed to view smartphone screens for four weeks. In all cases, the symptoms improved and in some cases, disappeared.
Along with restricting smartphone use, the researchers advised parents to send children outside to play, as outdoor activity also appeared to protect children from developing DED. Older-grade students in urban environments with DED symptoms had a short duration of outdoor activity time.
Therefore, the researchers say, close observation and caution are needed when older children in urban areas use smartphones, as they are more likely to develop DED at an early age.