With the preponderance of digital devices in our lives it’s easy to lose track of the hours we spend staring at screens. Whether you are obliged to be in front of a computer for your job duties, or just a TV or video game junkie, the dangers are applicable to you. And that’s not to mention the ubiquitous smartphone, which has now become an appendage on even the youngest members of society. Considering this, it’s no surprise that Digital Eye Strain is a potential problem for most of us, whether we wear glasses or not. And it’s important to consider the ways in which we can mitigate the cumulative damage done to our eyes from digital devices.
So what exactly is Digital Eye Strain? It’s simply the discomfort many of us feel after two or more hours in front of any type of digital screen. This includes desktops and laptops, smart phones and tablets, e-readers, TVs, and video games. Other bodily symptoms of overexposure include neck, shoulder, and back pain, headache, blurred vision, and dry eyes. The average person blinks about 18 times a minute, but staring at screen causes blink rates to reduce, resulting in dry, itchy or burning eyes and can even cause permanent changes to tear fluid.
The optical industry has begun paying attention to blue light, also called high-energy visible (HEV) light, exposure. This is the category of light emitted from backlit displays. Blue light can reach even deeper into the eye than UV, and may damage the retina with cumulative exposure (which could lead to macular degeneration.) Digital devices expose the eye to hidden spikes in intensity at wavelengths within the blue part of the spectrum.
Blue light can also impact circadian rhythms by suppressing the release of melatonin (the hormone that controls the day-night cycle in the body.)
This January, The Vision Council released its third annual Digital Eye Strain Report, based on a study involving around 10k participants conducted in October, 2014. Its findings about the amount of time most of us spend on digital devices is a little shocking – 1/3 of adults spend more than half their waking hours staring at a screen. But many of us have no choice; our livelihoods are dependent on hours in front a computer. So what can be done?
Tips for preventing digital eye strain:
- Increase the text size and adjust the contrast to make text easier to read
- Change the background color from white to grey
- 20-20-20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds at something 20 feet away
- Remind yourself to blink
- Dust & wipe down screens to cut down on glare
- Put your computer screen one arms length from your face (20-28 inches from your eyes)
- Your screen should be directly in front of your face, slightly below eye level
- Anti-reflective coatings on the front and back of lenses (more info)
- Anti-glare protective screens on monitors
- Adjust the lighting in your workspace using desk lamps or other portable lighting (since fluorescent lighting emits blue light as well)
- Try blue-light blocking lenses (like these, or any lens with an amber, yellow, or gold tint that has UV coating)
Tips for kids
- Take regular breaks
- Don’t let them hold the screen too close to their eyes
- Correctly set up workstation, with 2 feet flat on the floor.
If you suspect you are suffering from digital eye strain, get an evaluation from your eye care provider.
The Vision Council (2015, January) Hindsight is 20/20/20: Protect Your Eyes from Digital Devices, 2015 Digital Eye Strain Report, Retrieved February, 03, 2015, from http://www.thevisioncouncil.org/