Computer eyestrain – or computer vision syndrome – is a group of eye problems caused or aggravated by digital screen use. Problems range from dry eye and symptoms of eyestrain to more worrying problems such as blue light toxicity and increased myopia. Vision is not the only victim when it comes to digital screen use; neck and back problems (e.g. ‘techneck’) are also on the increase due to the many hours spent hunched over screens – for both work and leisure.
How does computer use affect our vision?
Optometrists in first-world countries have noticed a sharp increase in the prevalence of computer eyestrain. Of particular significance is the increase in myopia (short-sightedness) among children.(1)
Urbanisation, increased indoor activity and prolonged exposure to digital devices all seem to be factors in this worrying trend. Dry eye syndrome and blue light toxicity also have a link to increased digital screen use.
What is visual stress?
Visual stress is a heightened sensitivity to glare, especially ‘white page’ glare. This is where printed text on a white background – on paper or on-screen – can induce symptoms of eyestrain including reading difficulties and discomfort. Visual stress is NOT dyslexia but it is more common in people who are dyslexic, with studies showing up to 50% of dyslexics also suffering from visual stress. Coloured filters, in the form of glasses lenses, overlays and screen-films, can reduce symptoms in some people who suffer from visual stress.
The Intuitive Colourimeter is an instrument that allows the optimum colour (or hue) and saturation to be prescribed in the form of precision tinted lenses to be worn as glasses for reading and computer use.
What is blue light toxicity?
In the past 5-7 years, most digital displays have upgraded to use Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology. Why? It’s brighter, more vibrant and most importantly much cheaper to run. LED light is made up of significantly more light from the blue end of the spectrum compared to the light emitted from older screen technology (2). This blue light is what is now presenting a hazard to our eyes – especially our children’s eyes.
Are dry eyes a symptom of computer eyestrain?
Dry eye is a common and often debilitating condition that effects more people than ever before. It has many causes but one that many will be familiar with is prolonged computer use – especially in dry, air-conditioned environments. Staring at a screen causes our blink rate to plummet, and this allows the tears film to evaporate from the surface of our eyes. The tiny oil glands – meibomian glands – in our eyelids don’t do their job properly if we are not blinking fully or regularly enough and this results in a poorer quality tear layer.
How can I reduce dry eye symptoms associated with computer eyestrain?
Blink, blink and blink again! It’s all about quality when it comes to blinking. When we analyse the blink rate and blink quality of our patients we notice that they not only blink infrequently, but they also don’t fully complete their blinks.
You can train yourself to blink better by practicing. Use the 20-20-20 rule to guide you: Stand up from your desk every 20 minutes, look into the distance for 20 seconds and blink 20 times.
You can also use artificial tears in much the same way as you would use a moisturiser for your face. Our bodies haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the demands of modern living, and prolonged screen use in dry environments is particularly challenging. If your dry symptoms are not relieved by blinking and tear supplements, come and see us for a thorough dry eye assessment.
Are computers bad for our children’s eyes?
Digital devices are here to stay. But, like most things in life, moderation is the key. It’s important to get the balance right. A recent study published in the Pediatrics Journal has shown that playing computer games for less than an hour per day, contributed to a child’s overall social and mental well-being. Children with no exposure to computers or, children who played for more than three hours per day were not as well adjusted.(3)
How can I protect my eyes from the dangers of LED light emissions?
There is no need to ban screen use entirely. Most children will be using digital devices at school as well as at home. For older kids, significant social interaction occurs via social media. The evidence suggests that it is wise to cap screen exposure to a maximum number of hours per day. Get the puzzles out! And if you’re thinking of getting an iPad for your preschooler, think again. In addition to reducing exposure to digital screens, glasses can have a blue light blocking filter to protect delicate eyes. These filters can be applied to prescription and non-prescription glasses and they provide peace of mind that we are protecting our eyes from some of the harmful emissions of LED screens.
- Pan CW(1), Ramamurthy D, Saw SM
Worldwide prevalence and risk factors for myopia.
Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2012 Jan;32(1):3-16.
- Przybylski, Andrew K
Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment
Pediatrics, 2014 Sept