The survey revealed that 89% of practitioners said that their patients use screens for fewer than 10 hours each day, despite 33% of adults reporting passing that mark.
Kelly Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD
As the age of technology continues to blossom, people are spending upwards of 10 hours per day looking at screens—4 hours longer than recommended by physicians—revealing concerns about the development of chronic dry eye, according to new survey data collected by Shire.
The survey results revealed some surprising insights, including that 70% of patients believe they cannot pursue life passions without screens, and that many adults are more comfortable discussing their weight (41%), consumption of junk food (44%), time spent online shopping (51%), or their drinking habits (55%) than their screen usage. In total, 64% of the adults with symptoms or the condition reported feeling guilty about the amount of time they spend in front of screens.
Also concerning was the report that 61% of those surveyed admitted that even if their eyes began to bother them, they’ll continue to use their smartphones.
"Dry eye patients often say that their dry eye symptoms are worse after prolonged screen use, and they struggle with recognizing how much time they really spend on screens," said Kelly Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, the dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. "Ninety percent of adults in the survey reported their screen use as 'unavoidable' even though there's an impact on their eyes, demonstrating the importance of sharing tips and resources that help patients prioritize both their screens and their eye health."
The survey was conducted online between November 14, 2017, and December 3, 2017, including data from 1001 adults with self-reported dry eye or symptoms of dry eye and 1000 eye care practitioners—either ophthalmologists (n = 500) or optometrists (n = 500).
Of the ophthalmologists surveyed, almost 66% reported that the amount of eye-related issues attributable to screen usage have risen in recent years. All told, 75% responded that they’ve increased the number of diagnoses of dry eye disease in recent years, with 88% attributing increases due to smartphone use. Due to this frequent use of screens in everyday life, some reported that the age of patients reporting symptoms of chronic dry eye is beginning to decrease as well.
The biggest concerns from the survey included some major discrepancies between eye care practitioners and their patients. One of the most concerning is that 89% of practitioners reported their belief that their patients use screens short of 10 hours each day, despite 1 in 3 adults surveyed passing that mark.
Another major concern revealed regarded education about screen usage and eye health, with 91% of adults (9 out of 10) requesting more information on how to limit screen usage’s impact on their eyes, while only 10% of eye care practitioners noting that they discuss screen use during eye examinations. Additionally, only 30% of ophthalmologists and optometrists surveyed believe that their patients are knowledgeable about ways to care for their eye health compared to 77% of adults who self-reported the same.
"I wasn't surprised to see that 3 out of 4 surveyed eye doctors said they are currently diagnosing more patients with Dry Eye compared to 5 years ago, and that 88% believe the increase of Dry Eye symptoms can be attributed to smartphone use," said Edward Holland, MD, from the University of Cincinnati and the director of the Cornea Service at the Cincinnati Eye Institute. "I have seen the effect of increasing screen-dependency on my patients' eye health and it is time, more than ever, for them to become more aware of their screen habits, and when it may be time for a break."
The findings have prompted Shire to partner with Thrive Global to announce the launch of a new educational program, screen responsibly. An extension of the 2016 eyelove campaign, intended to raise awareness for eye health and the signs of chronic dry eye.
"Our relationship with technology is one of the most important conversations of our time," said Arianna Huffington, MA, founder & CEO of Thrive Global, in a statement. "And that includes giving attention to how screens are affecting our first line of defense: our eyes. That's why Thrive has joined forces with eyelove, to help people learn how to screen responsibly, while still enjoying all the benefits of technology."
According to Shire, resources and content providing tips on how to live a screen-healthy life are available on screenresponsibly.com.