Technological devices have become increasingly prevalent in modern society and today are nearly ubiquitous. We are on our computers all day at work, watching our big-screen televisions in the evening, and hooked to our smart phones at all times in between. Aside from the massive social and economic impacts this technological revolution has had, these omnipresent devices have been found to cause a number of different health effects as well. Here, we will examine the effects of extensive screen time on your eyes, a phenomenon known as “digital eyestrain.”
Signs that you are suffering from digital eyestrain include eye discomfort, redness, dryness, eye watering, tired eyes, blurred vision and headaches, particularly after looking at a screen for a prolonged time. People with digital eyestrain may experience a few to all of these symptoms in varying degrees of severity, and symptoms tend to increase during the day over the course of digital media use, then gradually subside after screen time is discontinued.
One of the more significant technology-related dangers to your vision is prolonged exposure to non-natural types of light. The screens on your phone, television, and computer produce greater amounts of light at the blue end of the spectrum than you would normally encounter in nature. Rays of blue light are at a higher wavelength than other colors, are packed with more energy, and are able to penetrate deeper into your eye past your natural filters, where they can cause damage to the important cells and structures in the back of your eyes. Glasses with special lenses that filter out blue light can be helpful in preventing blue light-induced damage and reducing related eyestrain. Some screens, particularly computer monitors, also emit low levels of UV light, the non-visible type which can cause sunburn and snow blindness and can cause damage to your corneas, lenses and retinas.1
Many of the problems that arise from excessive device use are not caused by the screens themselves but from the consequences of focusing your eyes to a point close to your face for too long of a time. Forcing your eyes to focus close-up for extended lengths of time can stress your optical muscles. Eye tiredness and difficulty focusing are common problems after working up-close for a stretch of time, and repeated, prolonged screen time can lead to myopia. When working at a computer, remember the 20-20-20 rule: keep the screen at least 20 inches away from your face, and take a break every 20 minutes to focus on a distant object for at least 20 seconds. Also remember to blink! We can forget to blink frequently when staring at a screen, which can cause some of the dryness and discomfort we experience. Lubricating eye drops can also be a great help.2
While technology and display screens are significant parts of most people’s daily lives, being aware of their effects on your eyes and knowing some basic remedies can make digital eyestrain less of a concern. Use blue-filtering lenses, don’t focus too closely on the screen, and make sure to give your eyes a rest once in a while, and they can remain healthy and sharp-focused for a good part of your life.
Scheffer C.G. Tseng, MD, PhD, is Chief Technology Officer of TissueTech, Inc and a practicing Ophthalmologist. He is a world renowned surgeon in ocular surface reconstruction and is well published with over 300 peer reviewed clinical and scientific papers. For over 30 years, Dr. Tseng has been dedicated to making a difference in the lives of his patients. He is the creator of Cliradex & PROKERA