SINGAPORE: Mobile apps that are designed to help reduce eye strain, myopia and other eye issues are aplenty. But how do you decide which ones are worth downloading - or if you should download them at all?
Look if the app is affiliated with reputable and independent medical research institutes, or has support from leading clinical eye centres, said Dr Mo Dirani, who is a lead researcher on global eye health with the Singapore Eye Research Institute. “The [app’s] functions and features should be based on scientific evidence.”
Dr Dirani recently collaborated with the Singapore Eye Research Institute-Singapore National Eye Centre’s (SNEC-SERI) Ophthalmic Technologies Incubator programme to launch plano - a myopia-monitoring app for parents to track their children’s use of smart devices. The free app lets parents track the frequency and duration of time their children spend on a smart phone or tablet, and the distance at which they hold the device from their faces.
While it may be ironic that eye-benefiting apps are typically downloaded and used on small screens - one of the factors that contributes to myopia and eye strain to begin with - “the problem is the type of relationship we build with smart devices”, Dr Dirani said.
“It is excessive and inappropriate use that’s the problem,” he said. “Such apps would need to ensure users do not engage in excessive and inappropriate use of devices, even when it paradoxically involves eye exercises or the like. As long as these types of apps are conscious of appropriate device use, such as time, eye-to-screen distance and posture, they should be fine.”
Apps that come with built-in blue light filters may also be worth looking into. “There is mounting evidence to support the use of blue filter to ensure better sleeping habits, reduced eye symptoms and retinal damage,” said Dr Dirani.
But when it comes to apps that make you take breaks by blacking out the screen periodically, Dr Dirani said, these policing apps are not the best approach to combating eye strain. “Twelve-year-olds [already] spend more than six hours a day on smart devices, and 9-year-olds up to 4.5 hours a day,” he said.
“The next generation is expected to spend even greater amounts of time on devices, with 6-month-olds already being exposed to smart devices for approximately 45 minutes a day.”
To better manage smart device use, Dr Dirani said he believed that education would work better than self-policing apps. This can help to ensure the public understands “the risk of overuse such as myopia, disturbed sleep patterns, mental health problems and increased sedentary behaviour,” he said.