We all can agree that the use of smart phones, tablets, laptop computers and the like are on a rise especially during this pandemic. As more and more of us are going virtual, at work or in our social lives, staring at screens for longer hours have become the norm. This in turn is cumulatively straining our eyes and our visual system.
Before I delve into a discussion of digital eye strain also known as computer vision syndrome, did you know that 50% of your brain function is dedicated to processing our vision and visual perception? This means that half the neural activity that takes place in our brain comes through our eyes, which gives us a sense of how critical our vision is and why we should not take it for granted.
Vision disorders are one of the main causes of learning disabilities in children. Many case studies on kids with various vision disorders have proven this point. Also many case studies of patients with brain injuries have shown how our binocular and peripheral vision is crucial in recovery. This being said when we spend more than half of our day staring at a screen it is reasonable to expect consequences. The reality is that our visual system is not designed to focus on digital screens day in and day out.
When it comes to eye fatigue and strain from looking at screens, there are three unnatural things that we have to realize we are doing. First, we are intentionally focusing on close objects for long periods of time. Our ancestors never used their eyes the way we do now. Our eyes are not designed to focus on close objects for hours on end; thus our visual system has to adapt to such circumstances. There is evidence now suggesting this is why myopia (nearsightedness) is on the rise among children across the globe, which is why we advise kids to spend time outdoors as much as possible. When we are outside, our eyes focus on close objects without requiring any effort or strain on the eyes. Any significant refractive error such as hyperopia/farsightedness or astigmatism can also place constant strain on the visual system. Another visual aspect that is important is our binocularity. Binocularity refers to how well our two eyes work together as a team to be able to focus effortlessly at a close object. Having adequate binocular vision is crucial for our brain to interpret what we are focusing on.
Secondly, when staring at digital devices our visual system is exposed to high energy wavelengths of light, which is known to keep us more alert and engaged. This in turn reduces our rate of blinking and also affects our sleep patterns when devices are used in the evening and night. Blinking is crucial in keeping our eyes moist and healthy as its function is to stabilize our tear film. During screen use our blinking rates can sometimes be reduced by fifty percent especially when playing video games. This can eventually lead to dry eye disease and eye fatigue. Lack of sleep can also contribute to strain as the ocular surface of our eyes rejuvenate when they are shut. (More on this on my next blog!)
Lastly our posture and neck position when sitting in front of a screen can also become unnatural which can lead to eye strain over time. Hunching over the chair, twisting your body, excessive tilting of the neck, raising shoulders when typing and looking at screens above our eye level are among many reasons to cause back, neck and eye strain.
When all of these unnatural habits work together for prolonged periods of time, digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome, can become inevitable unless these habits can be countered by new good habits. The following list contains some of the good habits to adopt that can help reduce potential eye strain:
- Make sure to wear your prescribed computer eye glasses with anti-reflective coating. You can also add a blue light filter but this isn’t mandatory.
- Take frequent short breaks by looking at a distance for 20 to 30 seconds and alternative longer task breaks.
- Do blinking exercises every 20-30 minutes.
- Keep hydrated throughout the day.
- Position screen to avoid glare from overhead lighting or window.
- Ideally, the location of a computer screen should be 15-20 degrees below eye level measured from the centre of the screen.
- Seating position: adjust chair height so feet rest flat on the floor. Chair arms should be adjusted to provide support while typing, and wrists should not rest on the keyboard.
- Reference materials should be located above the keyboard and below the monitor.
- Muscles stretches after every couple of hours to release tension from back, neck and eyes.
- Get a good night sleep to sufficiently rest the eyes and body.
This list of habits is useful to prevent back, neck and eye strain, but it is not by any means exhaustive. Stress levels can also play a large part is your overall well being.
At Urban Opticians, our optometrists take the time to counsel patients suffering from digital eye strain. We provide useful tips and materials to help form these good habits and combat this problem. We realize digital device usage is a pandemic in it self and it’s responsible use needs to be addressed especially among our children.