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Is staring at screens damaging my eyes?

November 26, 2015

We are often asked this question, which is becoming increasing relevant with the dramatic increase in the use of digital devices.

Research is yet to categorically prove actual damage from prolonged viewing of these devices but there is certainly no doubt that it causes discomfort and eyestrain. Symptoms include (but not limited to) dry eyes, irritable and red eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, headaches, head, neck and back pain.

The 2015 (US) report by The Vision Council (Hindsight is 20/20/20: Protect your eyes from digital devices) found that nearly 2 out of 3 people viewing screens routinely experience some form of eyestrain.

The report reveals that a third of adults spend more than 9 hours per day on some digital device with a clear generational difference. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were the highest users at 37.4%.

Digital devices all emit HEV (high energy visible)/ blue light, which has the most potential to damage living tissue. Laboratory and animal studies have shown exposure to high levels of HEV light can damage tissue in the retina in a way that appears consistent with retinal changes associated with macula degeneration; a leading cause of permanent vision loss in the older generation. But, no one is sure yet if prolonged use of digital devices causes sufficient exposure to HEV light to cause permanent damage to the eye/s.

Increased screen usage is part of the trend towards an increased level of prolonged close viewing tasks which is thought to contribute to the increasing levels of myopia (short-sightedness) proliferating in the developed world.

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself and hopefully minimise the negative consequences if you indeed cannot be away from your digital devices.

  • Have a regular eye exam; even a minor refractive error can create eyestrain and be exaggerated by digital device use.
  • If spectacles are required, ask for lenses that block HEV/blue light and are multi-coated to eliminate reflection, improve contrast and reduce glare effects.
  • Always try to maintain good posture, a comfortable working/viewing distance from your screen or device and reasonable room lighting.
  • Adopt the 20-20-20 rule. After every 20 minutes of viewing, take a 20 second break and look at something in the distance 20 feet (6 metres) away. This relaxes the muscles in and around the eye and stimulates blinking which improves comfort.
  • And, the best advice of all? Get away from that digital device and head outdoors!

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