Technology in a Bad Light: The Risks of Digital Eye Strain

eye-strain-400-539272049Most of us can’t imagine a day without technology. Some of us may sit in front of a computer for eight hours at work. Then we might come home and turn on the TV. Throughout the day, perhaps we keep in touch on our smartphone with our significant other. And later, we may see what our friends are up to using our tablet to access our Facebook newsfeed.

Technology can connect us. But when we use it, we spend an awful lot of time staring at a digital surface, which poses a risk of digital eye strain.

Are You Suffering from Digital Eye Strain?

Digital eye strain occurs when we spend too much time staring at a digital surface like a computer, smartphone, tablet or TV.

Due to the ubiquity of these items, it’s safe to say we’re all at risk.

If you or your child are experiencing digital eye strain, you might suffer from the following:

  • Headaches
  • Eye dryness
  • Eye fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty shifting focus to objects at a distance

Staring at screens for a prolonged period of time can wear down the retina, which can also lead to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Your retina wears down because your eyes have to exert themselves to see an electronic device clearly. Over an extended period of time, the excessive focusing causes your eyes to become fatigued.

Unfortunately, many of us are either unaware or not doing anything about it. A recent nationwide survey from The Vision Council showed 68.5 percent of Americans have not discussed how often they use digital devices with their eyecare provider, and 73.5 percent were unaware of eyewear that could protect their eyes from them.

The survey also found 87 percent use digital devices more than two hours per day. More than 50 percent regularly use two digital devices simultaneously.

Is Technology Giving You the “Blues”?

Digital eye strain occurs because of the light emitted from digital devices. Most devices — including but not limited to computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs and artificial lighting — have light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which radiate blue wavelength light.

Blue wavelength light is a high-energy light visible to the naked eye.

Let’s consider how light travels. Light wavelengths look like this:

wavelengths-2

Notice, the red-light wavelength is significantly longer than the blue-light wavelength. The red-light wavelength is lower energy. Eventually, the wavelengths become so long we can’t see them with our naked eye. This is the realm of infrared light. If the wavelengths become so short we can’t see them, this is ultraviolet (UV) light.

You probably already know the sun’s UV rays can cause sunburn. They can also cause corneal surface burns, or sunburns on the eye.

What’s worse, ultraviolet light is a high energy wavelength, so our eyes aren’t good at protecting against it.

The Reason Your Children Are at Greater Risk

Digital devices can be great for children. They can be fun and educational.

But you’ll want to monitor your children’s use, as digital devices can pose a risk for eye strain.

Depending on your children’s ages, digital devices can hurt the development of their eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a child’s eyes don’t fully develop until about age seven.

But even if your children are older than seven, they might not have the same awareness you do of digital interfaces. Or, worse, they might ignore it altogether, and not put the devices away even if they start experiencing symptoms of eye strain.

Six Steps that Will Help You Prevent Digital Eye Strain

To prevent digital eye strain, you can take the following six steps:

  1. Keep your distance. When using technology, don’t press your face right up against the screen. If you’re watching TV, stay at least 20 feet away.
  2. Take frequent breaks. Every 20 minutes, take a break from the digital screen for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Use one device at a time. As tempting as it might be, don’t play on your phone and watch TV at the same time.
  4. Get glasses with blue-light filtering lenses. Sixty-seven percent of people in their 30s spend five or more hours each day on digital devices, according to Vision Monday, a leading news and news-analysis source for the ophthalmic industry. If working with digital screens is a prerequisite for you, consider purchasing glasses with blue-light filtering lenses. This can shield your eyes from harmful wavelengths.
  5. Schedule regular eye exams. Schedule routine eye exams every one to two years for you and your children.
  6. Unplug. In a lot of ways, you set your children’s habits for them. If you spend eight hours in front of a computer, only to come home and watch TV, you’re children are probably going to emulate your lifestyle. Schedule time as a family to unplug and do something that doesn’t involve technology.

Don’t let digital eye strain affect you or your children’s health. By practicing these six steps, you can keep 20/20 vision for the future!

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