More than 1 in 3 people in the UK report deteriorating eyesight due to increasing screen time during pandemic

12 January 21

written by:

Róisín Treacy

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A woman in front of a screen, pinching her forehead like she has a pain.

A poll by Fight for Sight has found that 38% of people in the UK who have been using screens more during lockdown believe their eyesight has been affected as a result, leading to difficulty reading, migraines and poorer night vision.

The online poll, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Fight for Sight, shows that almost half (49%) of respondents’ screen time has increased since the pandemic began, with one third (33%) of these saying it has increased by more than two hours, up to four hours a day. Shockingly, half (50%) of students and more than four in 10 (42%) working adults believe an increase in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected their sight.

Of the respondents who think their eyesight has deteriorated during the pandemic, 39% say they have difficulty reading as a result, 23% report having had headaches/migraines and 17% believe they have poorer night vision. In spite of this, more than one in five (21%) respondents said they were less likely to get an eye test now, than they were before the pandemic because of fear of catching or spreading the virus, while nearly one in ten (9%) were less likely to get an eye test because they believed it was too expensive.

Fight for Sight is encouraging those who have found their screen time has increased in the last year to adopt the 20-20-20 rule to help prevent eye strain. The rule recommends that for every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds. The charity is also emphasising the importance of having regular eye tests and reminding people that the majority of opticians are open for appointments throughout lockdown restrictions.

Fight for Sight is also reminding people that under health and safety legislation in the UK, employers must pay for an eye test for their employees if they use a screen for more than an hour a day for work.[1]

Chief Executive at Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause said: “With the Covid-19 pandemic having forced so many of us to move to digital working, online learning and even virtual socialising, it is not surprising that our screen time has soared this year. However, it’s vital that the benefits of increased digital access and use during lockdown do not come at the detriment of our eye health. We would urge employers to take their responsibilities towards staff seriously during this period of extended home working and to encourage employees to take regular breaks from screens. People should also continue routine eye care throughout the pandemic and to get their eyes tested if they feel their sight has deteriorated. More than half of all cases of sight loss are avoidable through early detection and prevention methods and regular eye tests can often detect symptomless sight-threatening conditions.”

There is currently not enough research to conclusively confirm that increased screen time can lead to deteriorating sight, however some studies have highlighted a potential risk of rising myopia (short-sightedness) rates due to children spending more time indoors, performing ‘near tasks’ and using smartphones and other devices.

Although blurred vision is usually easy to fix with glasses or contact lenses, people with high myopia (severe short-sightedness) are at risk of sight loss due to torn or detached retina. High myopia can also cause glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) and myopic macular degeneration in which central vision becomes distorted or blurred. Anyone with a prescription level of minus six or lower is considered to have high myopia.

Professor Jeremy Guggenheim is a Fight for Sight funded researcher who specialises in myopia research. He said: “Research has shown convincingly that insufficient time spent outdoors is a risk factor for myopia. Excessive time viewing electronic devices may pose an additional risk. Therefore, clinicians around the world are worried that Covid-19 lockdown restrictions may elevate the already high levels of myopia in many regions.”

There are currently 2.5 million people in the UK living with sight loss. According to Fight for Sight’s Time to Focus report, this number will jump to 3.5 million by 2050 as a result of our aging population. Today, sight loss costs the UK economy £25.2 billion a year. Fight for Sight estimates that this cost will rise to £33.5 billion a year by 2050. Using a new costing tool developed in partnership with the London School of Economics and based on a review of over 350 academic papers, Fight for Sight has shown that reducing the prevalence of eye conditions by just 1 percent a year could avoid costs to the UK economy of up to £9.5 billion by 2050, including £1.5 billion in savings for NHS and social care services.

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