Digital Eye Strain - A 21st Century Problem
Over 95% of Americans are said to be at increasing risk to developing digital eye strain as a direct result of our ever-growing use of mobile technology*.
Quite simply, our eyes are not currently evolved enough to handle the intense focusing that we demand on a daily basis. As a rule, spending over 2 hours per day using your smartphone, tablet or desktop monitor puts you at risk of developing the condition – but what is it?
Recognizing Digital Eye Strain
It’s very common to experience symptoms of eye strain at work. When you’ve spent a few hours in a row plugging away at your keyboard to meet a deadline, you might find your eyes feeling a bit dry, or tired. That irritated sensation – which might be eased by shortly closing your eyes – could be digital eye strain.
One problem is that many of us mistake eye strain for overall fatigue – if that’s the case, that extra cup of coffee is only going to worsen the problem, not perk you up. If you are struggling to read clearly, or find your eyes water after prolonged use of any monitor, the best thing you can do is make an appointment for an eye exam and proper diagnosis. We can help manage your symptoms.
- Eye fatigue (difficulty keeping your eyes open)
- A burning or itching sensation in the eyes
- Sore neck or upper back
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty focusing and reading
- Symptoms similar to dry eye (due to a reduced blink rate)
Whenever you focus on something – near or far – the small focusing muscles in your eye have to work to shape the lens and make the image sharp and clear. The effort required to focus on smartphones or monitors is greater than, say, reading from a blackboard.
This increased and prolonged effort causes muscle fatigue, which eventually presents as any of the listed symptoms above.
Preventative Treatment for Digital Eye Strain
The key to alleviating eye strain symptoms is simply to lighten the burden put on your focusing muscles. There are plenty of best practices which you can implement at home, or at work, which will often clear up your symptoms entirely.
These can be designed to reflect glare (a known contributor to eye problems, including digital strain) or, in more advanced designs, absorb a certain amount of blue light emitted by your monitor. Near-ultraviolet light has been linked to long-term problems with our eyes, and these glasses are therefore a preventative tool.
By having a soft light source behind your monitor, as well as dotted throughout the room, your eyes will have to work less to focus, thereby decreasing the amount of strain when reading or watching video.
If you have a monitor that’s separate from your keyboard, you should try to keep the monitor around 2.5 feet from your eyes. This distance is optimal for letting your eyes relax, while being easily readable.
There are special coatings you can apply to your screen to reduce glare, but the easiest method is simply to shield your screen from bright, focused light, such as that emitted by the sun on a nice day.
Preventative Eye Care Is the Best Treatment for Digital Eye Strain
Focusing on digital screens takes more effort than reading from a whiteboard or a well printed novel. Certain best practices allow us to minimize the effort input demanded of our eye muscles, which in turn reduces our susceptibility to eye strain. Put simply, if you work a muscle less, it won’t be as strained.
The Resting Point of Accommodation (RPA)
Your monitor should sit at around 26-30” from your eyes, as this is the most comfortable distance for your eyes to focus comfortable- this is called the RPA and is what we should all aim for in our desk setup.
Computers often require our eyes to focus at a distance which is somewhere between short and long sight, called “intermediate” sight. Computer glasses are designed to optimally focus at this intermediate distance, to minimise the amount of strain on your eye muscles.
In fact, research suggests that some high frequency blue light emitted by modern monitors could be damaging to our eye health. Computer glasses are being designed with filters which absorb a large portion of this blue light without affecting your color perception. Again, this should help minimize eye strain and other adverse effects from prolonged screen use.
Regular Eye Exams
Eye exams accomplish so much more than simply evaluating your need for corrective lenses. They are a gateway into your overall eye health, and assessments let us know if there is any underlying condition which may be confused with eye strain. They also allow us to gauge the extent and severity of your symptoms, and thus heighten our ability to recommend treatment.
By having ambient lighting which is soft and light (especially behind your computer) you can seriously reduce the amount of effort required by your eyes to focus.
Use blinds, curtains or reflection-absorbent materials in your office setup, where possible, as glare can contribute to eye strain.
This is a way to give your eyes a bit of a rest. Every 20 minutes, try to focus on an object over 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Your eyes can relax and get a little rest before carrying on with the computer. These small breaks can really help your eyes in the long run.