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Subspecialties Basic & Translational Research, Health Economics and Policy

TikTok: A Site for Sore Eyes?

TikTok logo by ByteDance Ltd / CC BY and Collage elements from

TikTok, the Chinese short-form streaming service, is regarded as a national security risk by the US and several other countries; now it is also said to be negatively impacting the eye health of children and adolescents. You may be thinking, “Of course it is; it’s a purposefully addictive video streaming platform.” But a study published in Ophthalmology & Therapy (1) is less concerned with children staring at screens; the focus instead is a specific subset of “TikTok challenges” that present significant ophthalmic risks for participants.

In the same way that rogue medical advice can be easily disseminated via Instagram and Facebook, TikTok’s challenges are not filtered by any sort of medical intermediary and reach their user base instantly. What is particularly concerning is that TikTok has 1.7 billion total active monthly users – a number predicted to grow to a staggering two billion by the end of 2024 – and that approximately 41 percent of this user base falls into the 16–24 age group, with a third aged 14 or younger.

Some of the videos in question claim that rubbing castor oil in your eyes will help to treat cataracts and glaucoma, and that bleach can change your eye color. The grossly named “mucus fishing” trend essentially encourages viewers to stick fingers or cotton buds into their tear ducts. Also notable is the “Orbeez challenge” – using paintball guns to shoot the superabsorbent gel pellets at other participants, which resulted in nine serious ocular injuries in 2022 – the year that it trended.

The Ophthalmology & Therapy study authors note that this type of content “lacks the verification and the peer-review processes that ensure its accuracy and dependability.” Somewhat contrarily, however, the authors also point to another study, published at the start of last year, which claimed that TikTok should be used by healthcare professionals to communicate eye care information to young users. Making particular reference to myopia-focused content, the authors of that earlier study conclude that, though TikTok may serve to disseminate some useful information, the myopia-related videos “should be treated with caution,” and they called on the content providers to “ensure more comprehensive and accurate content.”

The issue of how to best regulate social media and the information it promotes is not a new problem. The many tech-savvy healthcare practitioners using the technology for the greater good notwithstanding, it seems that there is still a very long way to go before the public can use these platforms as a source of trusted information.

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  1. S Al Hassan et al., “An Emerging Ophthalmology Challenge: A Narrative Review of TikTok Trends Impacting Eye Health Among Children and Adolescents,” Ophthalmol Ther 13, 895 (2024). doi.10.1007/s40123-024-00885-3
About the Author
Alun Evans

Coming from a creative writing background, I have a great interest in fusing original, narrative-driven concepts with informative, educational content. Working at The Ophthalmologist allows me to connect with the great minds working in the field of contemporary eye care, and explore the human element involved in their scientific breakthroughs.

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