Avert Your Eyes: the Pain of Digital Eye Strain
Do you ever feel as though you’re trapped in a digital world of your own making? No matter where you turn — a computer to your front, a phone to your right, a tablet to your left. Oh, and look over there … it’s your work BlackBerry.
You’re trapped, and there’s nowhere to look but at a digital screen. And obviously you’re reading this article on your computer. (May we suggest hitting the old print button?)
In fact, a 2012 survey conducted by the Vision Council found that more than one-third of U.S. adults spend four to six hours a day with digital media or electronic devices. Fourteen percent clocked in at 10 to 12 hours a day.
Sound familiar? With the world increasingly converging on this now all-too-familiar digital landscape, it seems we’re head-deep. It’s a wonderful world to be living in, but everything comes with a price.
We’re talking eye strain. And whether you’re aware of it or not, your eyes are working overtime as you constantly canvass your computer screens, smartphones and tablets.
“Because [these devices] are designed for reading and close-range use, eyes must constantly refocus and reposition to process content like graphics and text,” according to the Vision Council’s report, “Screens, Phones, Tablets and More: Keeping Your Eyes Safe in a Digital Age.” “Over time, such efforts can lead to fatigue, irritation and vision problems.”
You’re using it wrong
Remember when Apple told its customers that they were holding their new iPhones wrong? Pretty sure we all scoffed at that one, but there could be some truth to that when it comes to eye discomfort. According to the Vision Council’s report, digital eye strain can be caused by using your device improperly.
Computer and televisions, according to the report, should be positioned directly in front of or just below eye level — the viewing angle should not exceed 35 degrees. Altering the position can help prevent aches from looking too far up or down at a screen.
If you’re sitting at a desk, make sure the computer monitor is an arm’s length away from your eyes. By viewing your computer at this distance, you’ll prevent fatigue from squinting or repositioning your head and neck to accommodate glasses (if you wear them).
Now even if you have chosen the optimal distance from which to view your monitor, you can still suffer from dry eye. You may find yourself trying to shift away from the resting point of accommodation, or RPA, which is “a dark focal spot that lies just beyond the computer screen.” Your eyes are naturally drawn to the RPA, and continually readjust to maintain focus on the screen.
Consider distance when you’re using your handheld devices, as well. A study by the State University of New York College of Optometry found that people hold their cell phones 2 inches to 9 inches closer to their eyes than they hold printed materials.
Not sure if your techy devices are causing your eyes stress? The Vision Council’s report notes these symptoms:
- Eye redness/irritation
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- General fatigue
- Back pain
- Neck pain
If we tell you to use your devices less, will you laugh in our faces? But all jokes aside, there are ways to help prevent eye strain from hours upon hours of screen time:
- Reduce glare by adjusting the brightness of your screen. You can also change the background color from white to a cooler gray. Or invest in glare-reduction filters that attach to your computer screen.
- Clean your screen.
- Dim surrounding lights, which compete with your screen.
- Allow for some distance between you and your device. When sitting at your computer, extend your arm — give your computer a high-five. If your palm can rest on the monitor, you’re good to go. For handheld, keep it at a safe distance from your peepers and hold it just below eye level.
- Adjust your screen so it’s directly in front of your face and just below eye level.
- Increase your text size.
- Blink — a lot. You’ll have to actively remind yourself to do this one.
- Take a 20-20-20 break. That is, every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look at something 20 feet away.
If you’re a desk jockey and stare at a computer eight hours a day, you may want to try computer glasses, which can help fix blurry vision and reduce eyestrain from bright office lighting, according to optometrist Gary Heiting. In addition, an anti-reflective coating on your lenses can reduce the amount of glare and reflected light that reach your eyes.