Digital Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is now a real condition, defined as the physical eye discomfort felt after two or more hours looking at a digital device.
Digital devices have become part of our everyday life, whether it is a computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone. When we aren’t staring at screens at work, we are browsing, shopping, researching, communicating or streaming our favourite TV shows.
The average person spends upwards of seven hours a day staring at some sort of digital device with between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen experiencing some Digital Eye Strain symptoms. Digital devices are a relatively new invention; it would take centuries for our eyes develop to accommodate the daily demands of using digital devices.
Digital Eye Strain is the term for symptoms caused by staring at digital devices for sustained periods of time throughout the day. When you look at a digital screen your eyes follow the same path over and over, and your eyes have to focus and refocus all the time. These movements require a lot of effort from our eye muscles and unlike reading a book, digital screens add glare, reflections and contrast. These issues will get worse as we age as our eyes become less flexible.
You are more likely to experience symptoms if you already have vision issues; even a minor uncorrected or under-corrected prescription can be a major contributing factor to Digital Eye Strain. And even people who wear corrective eyewear or contact lenses may find it's not suitable for the specific viewing distances of their digital screen.
Elements in the environment, such as bright overhead lighting, glare, blue light and air conditioning, can also exacerbate symptoms. This can lead to short and/or long term problems and discomfort. The symptoms that people can experience range from headaches, eyestrain, irritated eyes, blurred vision, fatigue, double vision, and difficulty refocusing eyes, to neck and shoulder pain, and dry eyes.
In a work place the distance to the computer screen/monitor and location such as height will affect the required prescription. This can cause posture problems that can result in muscle spasms or pain in the neck, shoulder or back. If you don’t do anything about them, it could affect more than your eyes. You could also have issues with your work performance.
Generally digital device tasks require a lot of concentration. When we concentrate for extended periods we often forget to blink or our blinking is incomplete which dries the tear film out. A good quality blink is where your upper and lower eyelids actually make contact. When we blink 15 to 20 times per minute that keeps the cornea (transparent tissue covering your eye) moist. It is common to work in an air conditioned environment which dries the tear film even more. A dry tear film causes symptoms of tired, sore, irritated, and fatigued eyes with blurry vision that only clears with blinking. When you suffer from incomplete blinks, it is important to exercise blinking. This will help prevent the tear film from drying out and provide added relief for Digital Eye Strain.
The Mortimer Hirst clinical team recommends a few simple changes which can improve symptoms and prevent new ones:
Give your eyes a break: Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
Blink: Close your eyes for five seconds and open them. While your eyes are closed, also try to squeeze, this puts pressure on the Meibomian glands. Repeat this five times in a row. If your eyes still continually feel dry, speak with your optometrist about eye drops specific to your individual requirements.
Reduce glare: Change, adjust or move things around to ensure lights and windows do not cast reflections or glare on your computer screen.
Rearrange your workspace: The best position for a monitor is slightly below eye level, about 60cm away from your face. You shouldn't have to stretch your neck or strain your eyes to see what's on the screen.
Adjust settings: You don't have to live with the factory settings; play around with the brightness, contrast, and font size and find out what best suits you.
Regular eye examinations: Keep your prescription up to date, discuss with your optometrist your individual requirements and any issues you may be experiencing. There are now spectacle lenses and soft contact lenses specifically designed for computer and digital devices. These specially designed lenses ensure the retina is receiving perfect focus for near-tasks at all times.
As children also spend extended periods of time staring at digital screens, have their eyes tested too and ensure their environment is correct by ensuring computers are set up at the right height and in the best light. Most of all, ensure they spend time outdoors where they use their distance vision!
Written by optometrist Emilie Langley and the clinical team at Mortimer Hirst.
Mortimer Hirst, 42-44 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna www.mortimerhirst.co.nz