Whether it’s a cellphone, tablet, laptop or even a desktop computer, people are relying on their electronics now more than ever in the midst of the pandemic. As practically helpful as these devices are to connecting to family, paying bills and completing work tasks, are they as beneficial to the eyes?
Eyesight is one of the most important senses — about 80% of what is perceived comes through the sense of sight, some research has shown. However, digital eyestrain, sometimes also known as computer vision syndrome, may have a glaring negative impact on sight.
A 2016 report from the Vision Impact Institute defined digital eyestrain as physical eye discomfort experienced after two or more hours in front of a digital screen. The report found that 65% of Americans reported experiencing symptoms of digital eyestrain, and nearly 60% of Americans used digital devices for five or more hours each day and 70% of Americans used two or more devices at a time.
“Since the pandemic, screen time has increased across the board,” says optometrist Dr. Dorothy Hitchmoth of ZeaVision, a vision care company in Chesterfield, Missouri. “Working from home, e-learning and social distance socializing are all part of our ‘new normal’ and require more device use than ever before. Because of this increase, there has been an increase in people suffering from the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, including children.”
When it comes to effects of electronic devices on eye health, digital devices are still considered relatively new in the span of human existence, says Hitchmoth, who’s a scientific advisory board member for EyePromise, an eye vitamin brand and subsidiary of ZeaVision.
“The long-term impact of them on eye and overall health is not entirely clear,” she says. “However, there are several short-term effects that have been documented and linked to device use, including tired, strained eyes, burning, dry eyes, headaches and even blurry vision.”
The American Optometric Association says these symptoms may be caused by poor lighting, a glare on a digital screen, improper viewing distances, poor seating posture, uncorrected vision problems or a combination of these factors.
To combat this strain and keep the eyes healthy and intact, optometrist Dr. Brad Brocwell, vice president of clinical operations for Now Optics, an eye health company in Palm Springs, Florida, has some tips.
“Remember to give your eyes a break from continuous screen time and near viewing to avoid digital eyestrain,” he says.
Also, follow the “20-20-20” rule, which Brocwell indicates is looking away from a screen every 20 minutes and looking at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
“This gives your eyes a chance to reset and should reduce eyestrain,” he adds. “As always, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your eye care professional.”
Hitchmoth says eye vitamins, eating a proper diet and exercising may also help stave off digital eyestrain.
“Your natural blue light protection increases when you eat foods like spinach, kale, bell peppers and corn,” she says. “Additionally, exercise is a great reset for your whole body after hours staring at a screen.”
She also says to keep in mind how and where electronics are arranged.
“A huge contributor to the symptoms of digital eyestrain is the environment in which the device is set up,” Hitchmoth says. “If there is a glare on the screen, the surrounding lighting is too dim or too bright, or the screen is too close to the face, the likelihood for strain increases.”