A pain in the neck, literally


MOST teenagers are viewing digital devices at unhealthy angles, adding as much as 27kg of weight to their necks.

This has caused about 50% of teens in a study to have neck stiffness after using gadgets like smartphones and tablets.

Not only that, 24.5% of the students were also short-sighted but were unaware of their condition.

“This means the teens continued to go to school untreated.

“Short-sightedness is a progressive eye condition and at advance stages, eyesight may be threatened,” said Dr Safinaz Mohd Khialdin, a consultant paediatric ophthalmologist from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre.

She was one of the six UKM experts and lecturers who conducted a pilot study on the impact of Internet usage on psychological and medical health among teens in a secondary school here last month.

One of the stark findings was that 75% of the teenagers were using their gadgets at odd angles of between 45 and 60 degrees.

“Viewing screens at these angles can put on between 22 and 27kg of pressure to your neck.

“The bigger the degree you bend your neck when using devices, the heavier the pressure,” said Dr Safinaz.

While such neck stiffness from using gadgets or “text neck” doesn’t cause permanent effects, the pain can affect a person’s performance at school or work.

As for their vision, the study showed that 60% of the teens were short-sighted – almost double of the rate of 34% recorded in a previous study in 2005.

Over 50% of the youths were on their devices for three hours a day, with some even going up to 10 hours daily and hence, increasing the risk of developing the condition.

“The increasing rate of short-sightedness is a global health issue and is linked to the increased amount of screen time,” said Dr Safinaz.

She said there is a higher risk of short-sightedness with continuous usage for over 30 minutes with devices placed less than 30cm away from eyesight.

“Children tend to hold their digital devices much nearer to their eyes compared to when reading books.

“They also spend long periods of time looking at digital screens without taking a break, cutting into their outdoor playtime.

“This is of concern because outdoor activities which expose the children to natural sunlight is important in preventing short-sightedness,” she added.

Some 66% in the study also had at least one symptom of digital eye syndrome, where someone develops dry eyes, eye redness and pain in their neck or shoulders due to using digital devices.

“It is temporary and will go away but it deters one from performing optimally,” Dr Safinaz said, adding that a person’s blinking rate also reduces from 15 times to six times a minute when looking at screens, causing dry eyes.

Most (90%) of the teenagers also slept after 10pm, with 35% saying they were surfing the Internet.

About 30% slept in class while another 55% don’t wake up feeling fresh for school at least once a week.

Dr Safinaz advised parents to limit their children’s screen time to two hours daily.

“Children under two should not be using any devices at all,” she said.

Device usage can be controlled by following the 20-20 rule.

“After 20 minutes, rest your eyes for 20 seconds by looking at something else that is at least 20 feet away,” she said, adding that screens should be held at least 30cm away from a person’s eyes.

She said it is also important to have good lighting when using devices so that there is less strain on the eyes.

“If possible, use the blue light filter on your mobile screen to cut out the blue light which can have a bad effect on your eyes,” Dr Safinaz added.

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