As March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about how our work environments can impact our eye health and vision. Studies have found that the average American adult spends over ten hours of their day in front of screens (either in the office or at home). That’s a lot of demand on a person’s visual system, so it’s no wonder that reports of digital eye strain are on the rise.
According to AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® survey, 58 percent of adults surveyed have experienced digital eye strain as a result of time spent on a computer. According to research published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Optometry in 2018, as many as 90 percent of digital device users reported that they have experienced symptoms of digital eye strain. That's a huge jump in the percentage of people reporting symptoms of digital eye strain over the course of three years.
As a side note, I started writing this article before the news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke. Given the current recommendation to stay at home in order to "flatten the curve," significantly more people are working remotely and/or using telecommunication for online school, healthcare, and more. Since this could be the new normal for an undetermined amount of time, it's imperative that we implement good behaviors to protect our eye health and vision. Keep reading to find out how...
DIGITAL EYE STRAIN
Digital eye strain, also referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), describes a group of eye and vision-related problems associated with extended use of digital devices. The most common symptoms include: eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use. Fortunately, many of the visual symptoms experienced by users are only temporary and will decline after discontinuing computer work or use of the digital device at the time being.
Digital eye strain and its accompanying symptoms may be caused by any of the following factors, alone or in combination:
Vision-related problems, such as uncorrected refractive error.
Oculomotor-related problems, such as poor convergence or fixation disparity.
Dry eye or ocular surface-related problems, such as altered blinking pattern.
Extraocular or environmental factor-related problems, such as poor posture and excessive exposure to intense light and glare.
Device-related problems, such as reduced working distance and font size.
The use of digital devices has become an essential part of everyday life, and the average daily use continues to increase each year. Here are eight strategies to help prevent and/or alleviate symptoms of digital eye strain:
1. Correct any underlying prescription with glasses or contact lenses.
Uncorrected refractive errors, such as hyperopia, astigmatism, or presbyopia, can cause blurred vision and trouble focusing at near. Prescription lenses designed for the high visual demands of computer and digital device viewing at a near and/or intermediate-range may be needed to optimize vision and comfort.
2. Address any vergence or accommodative anomalies.
As viewing a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder, any eye focusing delays or inadequate eye coordination abilities can place additional demands on the visual system. If the condition cannot be corrected with prescription lenses, vision therapy may be needed to address the specific problem.
3. Perform blinking exercises and abide by the “20-20-20 Rule” to give your eyes a break.
Dry eye symptoms are associated with prolonged screen use. The use of digital devices reduces both blink rate and completeness of blinks, leading to longer exposure of the ocular surface and thus, faster evaporation of your tears. You can minimize your risk of developing dry eyes when looking at screens by adding in blinking exercises and taking frequent breaks during the workday.
4. Use artificial tears to help alleviate symptoms of dry eye.
If you're still noticing issues with dry eye symptoms, even with taking frequent breaks to rest your eyes and perform blinking exercises, it may be time to supplement with a lubricating eye drop (artificial tears). Keep a bottle on your desk as a visual reminder to instill a drop as needed during your workday.
5. Control lighting and glare on the device screen.
Be mindful of your workspace set-up. Position your computer monitor to avoid glare from overhead lighting or windows. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen and dim nearby lighting. As an extra measure, consider adding a glare filter to your device screens to minimize the amount of light being reflected from them. Adding an anti-glare, also known as anti-reflective, coating to your glasses helps to improve your vision and comfort by minimizing reflections off the front and back surfaces of your eyeglass lenses.
6. Banish blue light through eyeglass lens filters, screen protectors, or built-in device functions.
In a similar fashion to glare management, consider minimizing your exposure to harmful blue light. High-energy wavelengths of blue-violet visible light that are emitted from digital devices and indoor lighting sources have been linked to symptoms of eye strain. Methods of blue light protection range from tempered glass screen protectors for your phone and tablet to built-in device functions such as Night Shift Mode on the iPhone. When it comes to your eyeglass lenses, you can opt for a blue light filter — or better yet, photochromic light-intelligent lenses, such as Transitions lenses, which filter both indoor and outdoor sources of harmful blue light, as well as UV light.
7. Establish proper working distances and posture for screen viewing.
Keep an eye on your body positioning and posture. The AOA recommends sitting a comfortable distance from the computer monitor where you can easily read all text with your head and torso in an upright posture and your back supported by your chair. The preferred viewing distance is between 20 and 28 inches from the eye to the front surface of the screen. Ideally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees, or about 4 to 5 inches, below eye level as measured from the center of the screen. Here's an illustration of what your workspace and sitting posture should look like:
8. Wear contact lenses that offer enhanced hydration and/or specific features for tech users.
Contact lens wearers have been found to be as much as five times more likely than spectacle wearers to report dryness symptoms. Taking into consideration that screen use in general is linked to dry eye symptoms, wearing contact lenses while staring at screens may worsen one's discomfort. If you're a contact lens wearer who notices an increase in dry eye symptoms after screen time, ask your optometrist about which brand(s) of contact lenses they recommend for digital device users.
Have you ever experienced eye strain or vision problems as a direct result of using digital devices (e.g., computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.)?