We’re a slave to our computers and smartphones, and it’s negatively impacting our eyes. We ask a doctor what we can do about digital eye strain
But here’s the thing: it turns out your parents were right after all, it’s just that it has a slightly different name these days.
Digital eye strain may sound like a millennial issue, but with the dawn of the technological age and a generation glued to their smartphones, you might not even know you have it.
With that in mind, we talk to a doctor to find out why it’s a problem and what you can do to manage it.
Eye to eye
So what is digital eye strain and why does it occur?
“Ever since the 90s and onwards, everybody has been using more and more computers in the workplace, which involves staring at a screen for long hours,” Dr Hamed Anwar, consultant corneal and refractive surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital Abu Dhabi, tells us.
“The result of this is digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome,” he adds. “The best way to describe it is that it’s a bit like the ocular version of carpal tunnel syndrome, where you make repetitive movements that affect all the tendons in your wrist.
“In the eye, because you keep looking at the screen, looking up, refocusing and using different focal lengths, all that constant movement for the eye-focusing muscles takes a toll on them.”
With six muscles in the eye taking the brunt of our screen time in the office and at home, Dr Hamed notes that no one is immune: “This will affect pretty much anybody who works in an office – anybody who uses computers for a large part of their day will be susceptible.”
Seeing the signs
The symptoms of digital eye strain might not be obvious at first, but each one follows the other, says Dr Hamed: “It’s a triad of things – it [involves] blurred vision, dry eyes and eye strain. After long hours using a computer, you might already have trouble focusing, but you also don’t blink as much if you’re looking at a computer screen.
“If your eyes are open longer they will dry up faster. The first thing that light comes into contact with when it comes into your eye is the tear film. If there are any disturbances in the tear film, then there are disturbances in your vision.”
From dry, scratchy eyes to blurred vision and headaches, there’s a chance you might not be connecting the dots between your screen time and your health – and that’s something you need to be aware of.
“The eye has quite a few muscles,” Dr Hamed notes. “If there is pain that is deeper in the eye, you might feel it more around the eye or in your forehead.”
For those of us who are far-sighted, digital eye strain can be even more of a menace: “Your eyes are focused beyond the horizon, and just to see normally you need to exert a certain amount of strain to see clearly. When you use a computer, you’re essentially doing double the work that someone who is shortsighted might.”
Easy on the eye
What can you do to combat the effects of digital eye strain? Here are Dr Hamed’s top tips…
Take a break: “We have something called the 20-20-20 rule,” Dr Hamed says. “Every 20 minutes of work, look away from the screen for 20 seconds at something which is at least 20 feet away. Essentially, this lets those muscles in your eyes relax.”
Screen time: To minimise the strain, computer screens should be matte rather than reflective, and be sure to opt for the highest resolution screen available.
Warm tones: Blue light, emitted from tech, can be harmful to your eyes. To counteract it, Dr Hamed advises switching the settings: “Change the colour screen from one which is more blue to one which uses warm tones.”
Change your environment: Fluorescent lights and screen height can exacerbate the condition, so make changes where you can.