How much time do you spend looking at digital screens? If the last year is anything to go by, your use of screens has almost certainly increased. Whether for work or play, to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues to do basic day to day tasks like banking and paying bills, we rely on digital devices more than ever. While they certainly make life more convenient, their prolonged use can also have a profound effect on our vision and our quality of life. This is known as digital eye strain.
Also sometimes referred to as computer vision syndrome, digital eye strain is the name given to a group of eye and vision symptoms that occur directly due to extensive use of digital devices. This doesn’t have to just be a computer, but could also be a laptop, tablet, e-reader or even your smartphone. Digital eye strain isn’t usually serious and doesn’t cause any permanent damage. However, it can cause discomfort and other unpleasant symptoms.
What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?
Digital eye strain can cause a wide range of different symptoms. You may experience one or a combination of the following:
Tired, heavy eyes
Excessive watering of the eyes
Eyes that feel itchy, sore and irritated
Eyes that feel dry, stiff and are uncomfortable when you blink
Blurred or double vision
Sensitivity to light
Difficulty concentrating on tasks
Aching, stiff or sore neck, shoulders and back
Why do we get digital eye strain?
Many people wonder why using digital devices strains our eyes more than simply looking at a book, magazine or non-digital device would. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, we naturally blink less while using digital devices. This means that tear film on the surface of the eye can dry out without being replenished as quickly as normal. Secondly, we tend to view our digital screens at distances that are far from optimal – usually right up close to our nose or a little too far from our eyes to be comfortable. The eyes can become strained as they try to adjust to focus at these distances. Glare/reflections can also make it harder to focus, causing our eyes to work harder to create a single, clear image. Finally, the poor contrast between the background and text on the screen can make it harder to read.
Blue light is another contributor to digital eye strain. Blue light is naturally produced by the sun, but our artificial devices produce it too. This means that spending too long using them can actually cause our eyes to be overexposed to blue light. While we need some blue light to function well during the day, too much can have a negative effect, causing insomnia, mood swings, irritability and poor concentration amongst other symptoms.
Preventing/treating digital eye strain
Fortunately, there is a range of things that you can do to help limit the effects of digital eye strain and make your device use more comfortable.
Optimize your workstation. If most of your digital device use is sitting at a computer or laptop, one of the most beneficial things you can do is optimize your workspace. This means positioning your screen around 20-24 inches from your eyes and sitting square on to it with the center of your screen around 10-15 degrees below your eyes, so you don’t strain your head and neck. Choose an ergonomic chair for added support.
Take frequent breaks. Most eye doctors recommend the 20/20/20 rule. This is taking at least a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something at least 20 feet away. This enables the eyes to relax and refocus. You should try and incorporate this into a break actually away from your desk every hour, where you get up and stretch your muscles too.
Remember to blink. It sounds obvious, but studies show that we blink less often when using digital devices. Remembering to blink regularly, and using artificial tears, can help keep our eyes hydrated and comfortable.
Consider blue light blocking lenses. We know that too much blue light isn’t good for our eyes. Many people who spend a great deal of time using digital devices opt to have blue light filter coatings applied to their glasses lenses to prevent too much getting through and affecting their eyes and vision.
Ask your eye doctor about computer glasses. Normal prescription glasses aren’t optimized for the distance at which we view digital devices, but you can get computer glasses that are.
Visit your eye doctor for regular comprehensive eye exams. Comprehensive eye exams are used to monitor the health and condition of your eyes and are an ideal opportunity to talk to your eye doctor about your digital device use and obtain advice on protecting your eyes.
If you haven’t had a visit with an eye doctor in the last 12 months, contact our dedicated eyecare team at Grin Eye Care to schedule an appointment.