If our parents yelling at us as children to not sit too close to the TV screen didn’t have any impact on us then, it should now. As if it wasn’t enough that working from home has its many, many effects or that pre-pandemic we already spent a disturbing amount of time on our phones daily, the effects of excessive screen time shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Have you ever felt your eyes slightly strained after long hours of studying or working on your laptop? How about dry eyes, blurred vision, or migraines?
Dr. Manveen Bedi, OD, FAAO, FSLS, optometrist at U Optical, says, “Clinically, I have noticed more patients coming in with complaints of visual fatigue, eyestrain, dry eyes, and headaches,” attributing the increase in clientele to an increase in screen time due to virtual classes and other leisure activities.
“With COVID-19, there is a growing concern that with an increased adoption of online classes, there might be an acceleration of myopia (nearsightedness) progression. In addition, we already know from several research studies that myopia progression has been linked with increased screen time, decreased time spent outdoors, and a genetic predisposition.”
Prior to the pandemic, the average office worker was already spending 1,700 hours per year in front of a monitor, according to a recent study. What’s alarming is that number does not even include time spent on phones and other digital devices.
Screens, unfortunately, add contrast, flicker, and glare, which all contribute to individuals overworking their eye muscles — essentially the cause of eyestrain. For example, if there is a glare on your computer screen, or even TV screen, your eyes have to work harder in order to make out what’s on the screen.
So when you’re working or studying from a screen, your eyes have to focus and refocus all the time — be it to move side-to-side for reading, react to changing/moving images, or shift focus from a book back to a screen, to name a few. All these jobs require a lot of effort from the eye muscles.
Further exacerbating the problem is that screens also emit blue light. Blue light can be dangerous because it penetrates the eyes down to the retina which is the inner lining of the back of the eye, and so excessive exposure can potentially damage cells in the retina. According to Gary Heiting, OD, this damage can resemble those of macular degeneration defined as the “deterioration of the macula, which is the small central area of the retina of the eye that controls visual acuity.”
The main cause for eye-related health concerns is the strain caused from bluelight and how it forces individuals to blink less — a reduction by a third to a half, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. As a result, your eyes are deprived of moisture.
Bedi, operating out of one of her locations in Vaughan at 2180 Steeles Ave W, explains that visual fatigue is a common symptom. “A normal blink rate is 12 to 15 per minute. However, when we are focusing on near activity tasks or computer work, the blink rate reduces significantly. This can result in disturbances in tear film distribution and dry eyes symptoms such as irritation, redness, burning sensation, foreign body sensation, and tearing.”
“For every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds … These reminders will overall help maintain your general ocular health.”
Bedi recommends adjusting “the brightness of your computer and other digital devices; use the night mode on the digital devices to reduce blue light emitting from screens.”
Second-year political science student Jaskaran Sidhu is no stranger to dried eyes, explaining that the pandemic’s forced-increase of screen time has not only dried out his eyes but made them more red.
A common recommendation to help with eye-strain is the 20-20-20 rule, explains Thaksha Sritharan, a third-year optometry student at the University of London, also concurred by Bedi.
“For every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Also to reduce incomplete blinks caused by prolonged screen use, you should blink regularly and drink water consistently. These reminders will overall help maintain your general ocular health,” says Sritharan.
“It’s probably also not great that my eyes are kinda stuck looking in only one direction for the day,” adds Sidhu. “To help with this, I’ve started using eye drops, but honestly it doesn’t feel like they help that much.”
Bedi agrees that “using lubricating eye drops when your eyes are feeling dry” can help reduce eye strain — highlighting the importance of not rubbing them. However, it’s worth noting that many of us, like Sidhu, also tend to stare at monitors and screens at distances and angles that are not ideal for our ocular health.
Since eyestrain is essentially caused by overworking our eye muscles, and human eyes have evolved to see at a distance in a three-dimensional world, it becomes a problem when we stare at blue light-ridden, two-dimensional screens for hours on end at such close proximities.
“Maintain a good working distance with your digital device — usually an arm’s length or 25 inches away,” says Bedi.
Otherwise, our eye muscles strain a lot of effort and it becomes difficult to adjust once we change visual direction (to our physical surroundings) again.
“After hours in front of the computer, the eye focusing point extends beyond the screen and out to a resting point of accommodation. This causes the user to exert extra effort to keep the eyes focused on the screen,” according to Princeton University’s American College Health Association.
“In their natural resting position the eyes accommodate a field of vision straight ahead and slightly down. If the monitor doesn’t fall in that field of vision, muscles must continually work to hold the eyes differently.”
Some additional strategies to ensure you are able to give your eyes adequate rest, reduce eye strain, and promote eye health include “ensuring appropriate lighting in the room when working on computers” and the “use of humidifiers,” states Bedi.
“Some individuals may require specialized targeted therapy to help with myopia control and dry eyes,” she continues. This can include “eye drops, specialty contact lenses, and treatments such as iLux, UltraView DEL,” all of which are offered at U Optical (and yes, they’re also offering student discounts).
With files from Shivam Sachdeva.