Eye Strain in the Digital Age
You’ve heard the saying “seeing red.” Well, in the digital age, we’re more likely to be seeing blue—blue light that is—and it may be taking a toll on our vision. Digital devices such as computer screens, tablets, e-readers and smartphones all emit blue light, or high energy visible (HEV) light, which may contribute to a condition known as digital eye strain. Digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), is thought to be caused by other contributing factors as well including screen glare, uncorrected vision problems, poor overall lighting and even poor seating posture.
The Vision Council defines digital eye strain as the physical discomfort experienced following two or more hours viewing a digital screen at a close to mid-range distance. Symptoms include dry or irritated eyes, blurred vision, a feeling of eye fatigue, neck and back pain as well as headaches. According to the Council’s 2016 report on digital eye strain, at least 65 percent of some 10,000 adults surveyed experienced symptoms of digital eye strain. And the numbers appear to be growing.
What’s It All About, This Eye Strain?
Viewing a digital screen is hard work for our eyes. The text is not as sharp, the contrast against the background isn’t as defined, and reflections and glare cast off the screen can make it tough for your eyes to do their job. The angles and distance of the screen is also quite different from what it might be with paper products. This demands more eye focusing and eye movement as our eyes struggle to hone in on the screen content.
Blue light emitted from the screen is also a consideration. According to Gary Heiting, OD, Senior Editor for All About Vision, the short wavelength and high energy of blue light scatters more than other visible light and is not as easily focused. Heiting states that this unfocused visual “noise” reduces contrast and can contribute to digital eye strain.
Additionally, our eyes are not very good at blocking the harmful rays of HEV light. The light passes all the way through to the retina causing changes in the cells which can promote or worsen macular degeneration, a condition which can lead to permanent vision loss.
If your eyes are already working overtime to provide you with clear vision, imagine adding all these other challenges to the mix. And the longer the time spent viewing screens, the more aggravated our vision becomes. It’s no wonder the numbers are growing of those struggling with digital eye strain.
Diagnosing Digital Eye Strain
If you spend a lot of time in front of a screen and are experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain, the first step is to make an appointment with your optometrist. A complete eye examination will help to determine if there are any existing vision issues which need to be corrected, or if perhaps special lenses are needed for your screen vision.
If you are concerned about the effects of HEV light on your vision, take some time to speak with your optometrist about it. The American Macular Degeneration Foundation recommends UV protective lenses for those who spend hours in front of a digital screen. These lenses block the HEV light emitted by electronic devises much like sunglasses block the harmful rays of the sun. They are available without a prescription if no vision correction is needed, or the coating can be added to your corrective lenses by prescription.
Your optometrist may provide additional recommendations in dealing with digital eye strain such as adjusting screen distance and height as well as suggestions for appropriate task lighting among others.
What Can You Do Now?
Changing the way you view the screen now may help alleviate some symptoms of digital eye strain. The American Optometric Association has the following recommendations:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.
- The center of the computer screen should be 4 or 5 inches below eye level and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
- Position your screen to avoid glare from windows or overhead lighting. Use low-wattage bulbs in desk lighting. Use blinds or drapes to reduce window glare.
- Take regular rest breaks. Rest your eyes for 15 minutes at two-hour intervals.
- Blink frequently to help minimize the development of dry eye. Blinking will keep the surface of your eye moist.
- Document holders should be above keyboard and below monitor. Avoid moving your head from the document to the screen.
- If needed, use a screen glare filter to reduce the light reflected from the screen.
- Use a comfortable chair. Rest your feet flat on the floor. Do not rest your wrists on the keyboard when typing.
In addition to taking these steps, there are blue light filters available through a number of manufacturers which can be applied directly to your digital devises. These filters may eliminate the contrast issues which plague screen viewers and protect our eyes from the increased threat of macular degeneration.
Take Care of Your Eyes
In this digital age, the majority of us do have our eyes focused on one or more devises at a time. We may be sending a text on a smartphone, while finishing up an email on our laptop. We may finish reading a chapter on our e-reader over lunch, then immediately transition to our desktop where we spend the afternoon viewing spreadsheets and Word documents. We’re making a lot of new demands of our eyes, but they haven’t had time to evolve into the role.
If your eyes are strained, take time to take care of them. Visit your optometrist, adjust your screens, take frequent visual breaks. Do whatever you need to provide some relief from the onslaught of digital viewing. Unlike smartphones which can be upgraded every two years, your eyes have a no-return policy. Invest in them now so they’ll be working for you long into the future.