Love it or loathe it: the world we live in has become increasingly digital. More and more hours are spent gazing at digital screens including computers, tablets and smart phones. These devices can potentially cause a host of eye and vision problems, with long-term effects on eye health.
Digital eye strain - also known as computer vision syndrome - is a group of eye issues created or worsened by the use of digital screens. This ranges from eye strain due to focusing issues, dry eye from lower blink rates, and potential ocular disease.
Given the amount of time we all spend using digital devices, it is no surprise that eye strain is experienced frequently amongst users. Our eyes can mostly focus well on near devices, though conditions such as hyperopia, astigmatism and presbyopia can lead to significant blur and strain with screen use - glasses or contact lenses can help in this situation.
Even if your eyes focus well on digital screens, the eye muscles will fatigue over time, giving the classic symptoms of digital eye strain: ache around the eyes, blurred vision and tiredness. Taking breaks from your screen every 20 minutes and looking in the distance for 20 seconds can help delay the onset of these symtpoms. If you use computers for long periods, special anti-fatigue spectacle lenses may help you. These have a small reading prescription incorportated which does some of the focusing for you, taking the edge off your symptoms (see figure below).
Because a computer often sits further away from your normal reading distance, people with multifocals bifocals or single vision spectacles can struggle. You may find you have to tilt your head or move uncomfortably close to the screen to see it clearly. Having a pair of dedicated computer spectacles or iT occupation lenses designed for the appropriate distance can alleviate strain, allowing you to work more effectively. Find more about different spectacle lenses here.
A disturbing trend has emerged with our ever-increasing use of digital screens. A greater proportion of the population is becoming short-sighted or myopic (a condition causing blurred vision in the distance) as children, at a rate that genetics alone cannot explain. Urbanisation, lack of time spent outdoors and screen use is implicated in what is being called a myopia epidemic. For more information about what can be done to prevent myopia, visit our myopia control page here. The main strategy research has found protective against short-sightedness is two hours spent outside each day. Send your kids out to play when you can and help their eyes!
The effect of blue light, the higher energy part of the visible spectrum, has been implicated in retinal damage over time. Our modern day screens are increasingly made with LED (light-emitting diode) technology which has a higher amount of blue light than older technologies. While it is not clear to what extent this blue-light exposure will have on long term eye health it is worth being cautious. Lens suppliers now have optional lens technologies to decrease transmittance of blue light. This may decrease the risk of retinal damage over-time. Talk to us about whether you or your children may benefit from 'blue-blocking' lens technology.
A common problem with computer use is the drying effect this has on the eyes. We often work long hours in low-humidity, air-conditioned environments while blinking infrequently due to our focus on a screen. This combination of factors can lead to evaporation of the tears in our eyes, resulting in irritated and uncomfortable eyes. Patients with conditions such as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction, even at a mild level, will notice this sooner than most. Visit our dry eye page for more information about these conditions.
Just as sunscreen works most effectively before going out in the sun, using a lubricating eye drop prior to using a screen can help delay the onset of dry eye.
We are often asked at Innovative Eye Care: 'are computers harming my child's eyes?'. We live in a digital age, where screens form a key part of how we learn and interact with each other- this is essentially unavoidable. Like everything in life, moderation is key. Have your kids regularly take a break from playing on the computer or tablet and encourage them to play outside or read a book in the sun - with UV protection from a hat and sunglasses of course!
A balanced approach to computer use has even broader effects. A recent study published in the Pediatrics journal shows that playing computer games for less than an hour per day contributed to a child’s overall social and mental well-being. Children with no exposure to computers and children who played for more than three hours per day were not as well adjusted (Przybylski, AK, Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment, Pediatrics, 2014 Sept)
The optometrists at Innovative Eye Care can advise you on things to think about when using screens in this digital age. We are happy to recommend products and behaviour modficiations to help combat digital eye strain and other computer related eye issues.