When people say that modern life and modern technology are making us all short-sighted, it turns out that might be true in a way that's much more literal than any of us realized. According to a new study, the rate of nearsightedness, or myopia, is rising dramatically — including the kinds that can result in actual blindness. And although no one is quite sure why, the fact that people today spend a lot of time in front of glowing rectangles might have something to do with it — you know, if I had to guess.
The study, which was published in the journal Ophthalmology, analyzes what the rate of myopia will be through the year 2050 — and it turns out, about half the world will have myopia by the middle of the century if we keep carrying on like we are now. Even worse, 9.8 percent of the world will have "high myopia," which can result in blindness. So by 2050, about one-tenth of the world will be at risk of blindness. Great.
Of course, that's assuming that the rate of myopia continues to rise at the same pace that it has been in recent decades. No one is exactly sure why it's becoming more and more common for people to develop myopia, so it's understandably difficult to know for sure if the rates will keep rising.
We do know, though, that it's more common for people in certain regions to have myopia — for instance, people in East Africa only have about a 3.2 percent rate of myopia, which will theoretically rise to about 22 percent by 2050. People in Asia-Pacific, on the other hand, already have a rate of myopia that's about about 46 percent, and by 2050 that will probably be around 66 percent. But as to why the disparity — or why the increase is happening at all — no one is entirely sure.
Still, it seems likely that environmental factors seem like a likely culprit — including the fact that no one goes outside anymore and instead spends most of our time staring at screens. Sunlight seems to help prevent myopia. On the other hand, it's well established that computers aren't good for your eyes. Though no one knows for sure what, if any, long-term damage computer screens might do to human vision, I'd be surprised if the two were unrelated.
So what can you do to protect your vision? Well, like I said, no one is entirely sure what is causing this global epidemic of nearsightedness, so it's hard to say. But it doesn't hurt to pay attention to how much natural light you see every day compared to the amount of time you spend in front of a screen. Even better though? Get your vision checked regularly. Because your eyes are important and you should take care of them.