From smartphones and laptops to TVs, we’re spending more and more time looking at screens. So how does all this screen time affect our eyes?

Alarmingly, the average American adult spends more than 11 hours a day staring at a screen in some shape or form.1 

In South Africa, screen time per person was just under five hours a day in 2016. Due to advances in smartphone and tablet technology, this is likely to have increased dramatically.

“What is so worrying about the extortionate amount of time people spend looking at screens is the harmful effect it is having on our eyes,” says Ruahan Naude, CEO of Dynamic Vision.

The problem with screen time

From working on computer screens and checking smartphones for updates throughout the day, to reading on tablets and a dose of TV to round off the day, many of us spend much of our day looking at a screen.

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“While most of us take great care to wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light and blue light in sunlight, very few understand the risks, or take any precaution, against the effects of blue light from screens,” says Naude,

The effects of blue light

Naude explains that digital devices and modern lighting, such as LED lights and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), emit a high level of blue light which is harmful to the eyes.

While UV light affects the front of the eye and forms cataracts, blue light causes damage to the back of the eye and increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and permanent vision loss.

“We are definitely seeing an increasing number of patients suffering with symptoms related to prolonged exposure to these screens,” says Naude,

Digital eye strain

As the effects of screen time – and the resulting exposure to blue light – have started to take its toll on people’s eyes, the terms ‘computer vision syndrome’ (CVS), or ‘digital eye strain’, have been bandied about more frequently.

“Often, people don’t even link the symptoms or discomfort they are experiencing to the prolonged time they spend staring at screens. It’s important that people start to understand the effects of exposure to blue light from screens, as well as know how to recognise the possible symptoms of digital eye strain,” says Naude.

Symptoms of digital eye strain

According to SEIKO Vision, possible signs of digital eye strain include:

  • Headaches towards the front of the head and around the eyes.
  • Sore and tired eyes.
  • Body fatigue, feeling tired and wanting to close your eyes.
  • Vision fluctuation, which occurs when the muscles in the eyes become so used to focusing on a digital device that they can’t relax when they look at something else.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Poor night vision, which results from eye muscles being overstressed from constantly trying to focus on light sources and digital device.
  • Dry, red eyes.
  • Itchy eyes that you need to rub frequently.
  • Reduced concentration. As most of the symptoms of digital eye strain are uncomfortable, it causes a distraction.

How to avoid digital eye strain

To avoid digital eye strain, Naude recommends the following:

  • Keep screens at least 50 to 70 centimetres away from the eyes
  • Use an anti-glare screen to prevent glare
  • Avoid excessively bright outdoor or indoor light
  • Zoom into pages to increase the font size

Eye exercises and breaks

“It is good to keep exercising your eyes by moving your eyes side to side, up and down and in a circle. Also, every 20 minutes try to take a break from staring at the screen, blink your eyes 10 times and then focus on something else that is some distance away for a few seconds,” says Naude.

He says can also wear glasses with fatigue reducing lenses that provide what is called ‘accommodative support’, beyond that provided by traditional, single vision lenses. “Accommodative support, from the likes of blue light support lenses, is literally energy for your eyes. They ensure more focused vision in all directions and distances to prevent fatigue and strain.”

The take-home message is that you shouldn’t ignore burning and itchy eyes, redness or vision fluctuations.

“If your eyes are feeling sore and fatigued, and you are battling to focus, get them checked. Regular eye exams will help to identify issues before they become major problems. If your symptoms are because of digital eye strain, you can take steps to protect your eyes and avoid permanent damage.”

For more information on your nearest Dynamic Vision optometrist, visit dynamicvisionsa.co.za

Sources:

  1. Statistica. (2015, 03 13). ‘Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours A Day’. www.statista.com
  2. SHEZI, L. (2016, 04 29). ‘SA’s 26,8 million Internet users spend almost three hours a day on social media’. www.htxt.co.za

Related: Quiz: Are you a smartphone addict?

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.