One of the most obvious statements that can be made about current times is that technology is changing our world. The use of technology in daily life has grown exponentially over the last decade and shows no signs of stopping. Over half the country uses a digital device for at least 5 hours a day, with nearly a third using 2 or more devices at a time. This increase in exposure has been linked to the increased diagnosis of what is commonly known as digital eye strain. Younger patients will be starting school again soon, so it’s important for eye care professionals to be able to recognize this problem and know how to solve it.
What is It?
Digital Eye Strain is defined as the physical discomfort felt after prolonged exposure to digital screens. This condition is associated with the close to mid-range distance of devices like desktop and laptop computers, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones. Patients usually begin to experience symptoms after 2 hours on a device, and 65% of the country experiences some form of digital eye strain.
The symptoms of digital eye strain range from irritated eyes to physical pain, including:
- Eye strain and fatigue
- Irritated, red, or dried out eyes
- Blurred vision
- Neck, shoulder, and/or back pain
What Causes It?
There are a few different factors that can contribute to digital eye strain. Blue light given off by digital screens is thought to be the most direct cause. Blue light is a short-wave, high-energy light that scatters easier than other light wavelengths, making it more difficult for the eyes to focus. Uncorrected vision also plays a big part in digital eye strain symptoms. Some environmental causes include poor lighting around the screen, glare, improper viewing distances, and poor posture. Any combination of these causes can lead to strain and discomfort.
What Can You Do?
With the rise in digital devices and patients experiencing digital eye strain, it is important to have solutions for the causes of distress. Routine eye exams are an excellent way to catch digital eye strain early and/or help prevent symptoms in the first place. These annual exams are also a perfect time to reinforce the other protocols to help limit the effects of devices on the body. Unplugging is the most obvious but most difficult solution. Most patients need digital devices for work or school, so completely unplugging for more than an hour or two is unrealistic.
If patients can’t break away from screen-time, there are a few steps they can take to help mitigate the effects.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule — take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. This gives the eyes a chance to refocus.
- Make sure the light surrounding the screen isn’t too dim or too bright.
- Blue light screen protectors and covers and blue light lenses — reduces the amount of blue light reaching the eyes.
- Dietary Supplementation — increases the eye’s natural protection against blue light.
While use of digital devices continues to grow, the number of patients with digital eye strain doesn’t have to follow the same trend. Have your patients follow these steps, and they can enjoy their screen time symptom-free.