Digital Eye Strain – What You Should Know
Digital eye strain is an emerging vision problem associated with the increase in digital devices.
Here are 5 key points about Digital Eye Strain:
- Caused by computers, smartphones and tablets
- Eyes become fatigued when looking at backlit screens too much
- Experience includes tired eyes, blurred vision and headaches
- Treated with specialised digital device lenses
- Taking frequent breaks can help
What is digital eye strain?
The average Australian is spending 7 hours per day looking at a digital device. Computer eye strain is physical eye discomfort. Felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen, it is associated with the close to mid-range distance of digital screens. Desktop and laptop computers, tablets, e-readers and smartphones are all implicated. Computer vision syndrome is another term used to describe this condition.
Fixation on a backlit screen at a set working distance for long periods of time is a visually demanding task. It is fatiguing for the muscles which control focusing and convergence. Consequently, after prolonged usage, people experience digital eye strain symptoms. There is also increasing evidence that blue light emitted from digital screens has a negative impact on long-term health.
Causes of digital eye strain
Backlit screens cause digital eye strain. Desktop computers, laptop computers, smartphones, digital tablets and reading devices are all implicated. Furthermore, televisions can cause digital eye strain if used for long periods of time.
Prolonged digital screen usage can result in symptoms such as: eye strain (32.8%), neck/shoulder/back pain (32.6%), headache (24%), blurred vision (23.3%) and dry eyes (22.8%). You are more likely to experience symptoms if you are in the presbyopia age group.
Digital screens have a mesmerising effect. On average, a person going through his or her daily routine blinks around 17 times per minute. However, spending significant amounts of time staring at a screen causes blink rates to reduce and dry eyes. Symptoms of dry eyes include itchy or burning eyes, gritty, stinging, tired and red eyes.
The blue light emitted from the screens can also disrupt your circadian sleep patterns. Disrupted sleep patterns are also linked to depression, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
A combination of symptoms, a history of device usage and vision focusing problems all contribute to a diagnosis of digital eye strain. The optometrist will test your vision using diagnostic lenses and also determine the best prescription correction for your eyes on your preferred digital devices. They will also assess the binocular and accommodation systems of your eyes.
Computer eye strain and fatigue is treated with specialised prescription lenses such as occupational and digital device lenses including extended wear and anti-fatigue lenses with blue light filters to suit individual needs.
Sometimes eye exercises are beneficial to improve symptoms. Furthermore, using artificial tears and non-medicated lubricating eye drops improves comfort for dry eyes sufferers.
Reducing your risk
Taking frequent breaks while using a screened device can help reduce the effects of computer eye-strain. Looking across the room and relaxing the eyes every few minutes, as well as standing up, having a stretch and going for a brief walk every half hour is helpful. It is also best to avoid using blue-light emitting devices within two hours of going to sleep.
When using a screen, look at something 20 meters away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Use the 20/20/20 rule to reduce your risk of computer vision strain.
High users of computerised devices including professional/office workers and university students fall into the highest risk category for screen related eye strain and stand to benefit the most from professional lenses.