J.M. Eddins Jr
Health + Tech /10 Apr 2019
04.10.19

Is Digital Culture Creating a Generation That Won’t Be Able to See?

Mom always told you not to sit so close to the television. New research is proving she might have been right about the detrimental effects of all that screen time on your eyes.

The average American adult spends more than 11 hours per day interacting with media, according to the 2018 Nielson Total Audience Report. For many people, this comes as a result of job tasks that require the use of a computer. Off-work activities like watching TV, playing video games and using your smartphone add to this aggregate number and soon half of your waking hours are being spent in front of a screen.

Digital Eye Strain and CVS

It’s a sign of the times, but while this behavior might seem commonplace, your body is not well-equipped to handle such high levels of screen time. Viewing things at such close distance places greater strain on your eyes than viewing things far away, and the human physiology doesn’t necessarily lend itself to life in front of a screen. Those who need glasses and don’t have them, or those who wear the wrong prescription for computer use are particularly susceptible to damage.

Working and playing in front of computer screens requires your eyes to focus and refocus constantly. While you can’t see it plainly, digital screens are constantly flickering or “refreshing” in front of you, causing your eye to make subtle adjustments in order to keep up. Your eyes continuously retrace the same range of movement. Over time, this repetitive practice causes serious damage.

Digital images are intended to be viewed at a specific, fixed distance that requires the muscles and lenses in your eyes to flex in order to focus. Like any muscle, fatigue develops as your eyes remain flexed over long periods of time. However, unlike the long muscles in your arms and legs, the lens of your eye is extremely delicate. Over time, this prolonged flexing causes it to break down, resulting in a lack of ability to focus on objects that are very close or very far away or presbyopia.

The medical field often refers to the vision problems associated with too much electronic exposure as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or digital eye strain. As you might imagine, it’s affecting more and more people as the use of digital devices in the workplace and during personal time becomes more prolific.

How Blue Light Affects Us

Electronic devices emit a specific wavelength of light the medical community calls blue light. Too much exposure to blue light from electronic devices has been shown to be particularly damaging to the area of the retina in charge of sharper vision.

While some forms of blue light actually help regulate our biological clocks, the blue light emitted from electronic screens is particularly harmful to our sleep cycles. While a direct link between electronic blue light and digital eye strain hasn’t been found yet, research has shown blue light can drastically impact our circadian rhythms.

The Cost of Constant Screen Time

CVS is actually not limited to impacts on your eyesight — you might experience the syndrome in the form of dry eyes, which is a condition that is extremely common.

The problems associated with too much blue light exposure and eye-straining expand beyond just blurred vision. About 70% of Americans experience some detrimental effects from prolonged screen use whether that be headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision or even neck pain caused by the posture you assume when working on the computer. The long-term effects typically manifest in early middle-age and include a lack of ability to focus on items that are far away blurred vision and headaches.

Despite the fact that CVS is starting to affect so many people, we aren’t talking about it a whole lot yet. The scope of symptoms is so broad, and the reality of our workplaces dictates that most people must use computers.

So, what can you do to protect your eyes? Not everyone can choose to be away from digital screens during the workday, but you can practice some good habits to slow the harmful effects of constant screen exposure.

Protecting Your Vision

For starters, consider how close to the screen you work when using your computer. You should be about an arm’s distance back from the computer, so you’re viewing the screen sized optimally to keep your eyes from straining. Reduce the overhead lighting in your workspace, so your screen has less glare. Take breaks, too — the 20-20 rule says you should spend about 20 seconds looking into the distance for every 20 minutes of screen time to reduce eye muscle strain.

When you’re away from work, it’s best to limit your exposure to electronics by choosing pastimes that don’t involve looking at a screen. Reducing your screen time can be as simple as changing the medium you use to get information. For example, read a newspaper or find a recipe from a cookbook, instead of searching for it online. Consider reading a book or exercising as opposed to playing video games or surfing the Internet. Blue light exposure is not just associated with eye problems but has also been connected to the quality of sleep.

Contact lens users should remember to rewet their eyes using artificial tears at regular intervals to keep them from drying out. If you wear contacts and have glasses, you should plan regular days to leave the contacts home and wear your glasses to allow your eyes to recuperate. UV-blocking sunglasses can also be helpful.

If you’re noticing you consistently have to strain to read the text on your screen, make the font and icon sizes larger. Nearly all programs and operating systems will allow you to do this simply through a settings window.

A Few Simple Lifestyle Changes

It’s not just what you do when in front of the screen that affects you. What you put into your body can be equally as important.

You might remember being told that eating carrots would help make your eyesight strong as a child. The fact is that carrots, while not a bad source of the carotin that we associate with healthy vision, actually contain less than leafy greens. Corn and orange peppers contain a nutrient called zeaxanthin that can reduce eye irritation and improve visual performance.

So, a diet high in leafy greens could help prevent CVS. Staying well hydrated and practicing regular stretching for the health of your neck muscles is an excellent way to avoid the soreness and muscle fatigue that can come along with Computer Vision Syndrome.

If you believe you’re experiencing the symptoms of this common ailment, the best person to speak with is your optometrist. A medical professional is always the most credible source to treat your specific condition. If you see a connection to the symptoms listed here or have noted an improvement after using these techniques, share that information during your visit to fast-track your improvement in ocular health.

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