The effect of technology on your eyesight

It’s a digital age we live in, there’s no denying. Smartphones. Tablets. Computers. Televisions. On average, Americans are spending 6 hours and 43 minutes a day on a screen—that’s more than half the waking hours in a day! And the number continues to grow, according to a recent Nielsen Company audience report.

What does that mean for you? An increased chance of a little thing called digital eye strain.

What is digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain, sometimes called Computer Vision Syndrome, refers to a group of eye and vision-related issues that are caused by prolonged use of digital devices. Symptoms can include:
• Dry, red, or itchy eyes
• Strain
• Headaches
• Blurred vision
• Neck and shoulder pain

The intensity or frequency at which symptoms are experienced seems to be directly linked to the amount of digital screen use. So, the longer you’re on a screen, the worse your symptoms may be. Your visual ability also factors in. Uncorrected vision problems, poor eye coordination skills, aging eyes—these all contribute to how severe digital eye strain will affect you.

What are the causes?

According to the American Optometric Association, the average American spends seven hours a day on the computer either in an office or working from home. Prolonged use of digital devices, such as a computer, is the major cause of eye strain.

Why? Because looking at digital screens makes your eyes work harder than, say, looking out toward a meadow. Screens display things differently than in real life. Letters or numbers displayed on a screen are often not as crisp or sharp as those displayed on a printed page. The contrast between what you’re looking at on screen and the background is reduced. Other contributing factors include:
• Screen glare
• Reflections
• Poor lighting
• Viewing distance or angle/posture

How do I know if I have it?

While you may feel as though you are experiencing digital eye strain, you won’t know for certain until you get a comprehensive eye examination from your eye doctor. Your optometrist may test for the following:
• Eye coordination: making sure your eyes are focusing correctly and working together properly
• Visual acuity: determining how well you are currently seeing objects and fine details
• Refractive errors: assessing if corrective lenses are required

These tests, along with a review of your patient history to establish if other factors such as medication or environment are causing the experienced symptoms, will determine your diagnosis.

How do I treat it?

Usually, symptoms will go away after stopping use of or taking a break from the digital device. The American Optometric Association recommends following the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. This will help alleviate any stress you are putting on your eyes by readjusting the focus.

How to reduce digital eye strain:

• Take regular eye breaks: Just like the 20-20-20 rule, taking time to rest your eyes and allowing them to refocus will help reduce strain.
• Be sure to blink: it sounds silly, but making sure you blink will help keep your eyes moist and reduce your risk of developing dry eye.
• Use anti-glare screens: these filters will reduce the amount of reflection or glare you may be looking at on your screen.
• Blue light blocking lenses: These type of glasses or contacts are specifically prescribed for computer use and use coating or tints to increase your visible ability.

With 80 percent of American adults reporting use of digital devices and 59 percent of those reporting symptoms of digital eye strain, proper viewing habits and regular eye exams are more important than ever. In this world of technology, be sure you’re taking care of your eyes.