Digital eye strain is caused by modern electrical devices that we use in our daily lives – computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. When we use these devices for too long, they tend to create an excessive amount of strain on our eyes.
Many people spend more than 9 hours every day staring at screens during work, and also in the home environment. This results in 40% of adults complaining of digital eye strain symptoms. In addition, the average smartphone user checks their phone around 221 times per day – so it is not hard to see why digital eye strain is becoming such a concern!
Here’s what you need to know about the condition and the steps you can take to protect yourself.
How Blue Light Affects The Eyes
Digital screens emit blue light which has been shown to reach the retina and cause oxidative stress. Over time, the free radicals that are generated damage the retina, resulting in visual problems and a heightened risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Children can be especially sensitive to the consequences of blue light as their eyes are not fully developed until the age of 8. This is one reason why screen time should be limited for young children.
Exposure to blue light is also known to affect the sleep cycle and disrupt levels of the hormone melatonin in the human body. Melatonin is needed for sleep and also regulates mood, therefore any interruption is undesirable.
It is no coincidence that people who use computer screens late at night often struggle to fall asleep – their melatonin levels are being suppressed by the devices they are using!
Digital Eye Strain Symptoms
Although blue light is the primary reason digital devices damage the eyes, the small size of some screens can intensify the issue. On phones and tablets, the font sizes are smaller, meaning that the screen has to be held closer to the face, which shines even more light directly into our eyes.
During and after screen time, a number of symptoms are common:
- Blurred vision
- Tired eyes
- Dry eyes
One scientific study found that up to 10% of male workers and 21% of female workers using digital screens suffered from dry eyes, while separate research confirmed that computer users often report eye dryness and grittiness after an extended period of work.
Interestingly, blinking patterns may be partly responsible for dry eye symptoms. It is well known that the blink rate is reduced during computer use – people can blink up to 22 times per minute when relaxed, but only 7 times per minute when looking at a screen.
This in itself causes more strain on the eyes and reduces levels of the tear film on the ocular surface (blinking spreads tear moisture across the eyeball)
Digital Eye Strain Prevention
The most important technique to avoid screen-related eye damage is to take regular breaks from computer work. Even short breaks of a few minutes allow the eyes to refocus and re-lubricate.
Just ensure that you do not spend your breaks staring at a smartphone instead!
Screen filters are also popular and effective. It is possible to buy physical screen filters that sit over the screen or you can use free software that alters the light emitted from a device. If you use digital equipment late at night, this is especially important and will help you to get to sleep faster.
Other strategies when using a computer include reminding yourself to blink regularly and to position the device at a comfortable distance from the eyes. If you suffer excessively from dry eyes, eye drops are often an effective and affordable solution.
*For those people who have a near-sighted or far-sighted prescription, then these preventative tips may not fully solve the issue – your eyes are likely to suffer from more visual strain than somebody with perfect eyesight. It may also be prudent to consider Laser Eye Surgery to return your eyes to 20/20 vision.