Whether it’s a computer or a cell phone, if you spend at least two hours using a digital device, you’re bound to experience digital eye strain.

Although many people haven’t heard of digital eye strain, more than 30 percent of people report visual fatigue, headaches and blurred vision after two hours of using a digital device.

This is according to a new international survey carried out by Novartis among 6 000 people.

What is digital eye strain?

Dr Nicola Lister, chief scientific officer and medical director at Novartis South Africa, explains that digital eye strain is a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use.

“It is important to note that prolonged screen time can increase eye discomfort, causing dry or irritated eyes and eye fatigue,” says Dr Lister.

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Other symptoms of digital eye strain can include:

  • Red eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Back and neck pain and headaches

The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.

What causes it?

Studies have shown that extended usage of digital devices may cause changes in blinking patterns, leading to a higher prevalence of dry eye.

Blink rates while viewing digital screens for long periods at a time decrease by about 40 to 60 percent. A normal blink rate is considered to be 10 to 16 blinks per minute, however during device usage, blinks decrease to five to nine blinks per minute.

How to prevent digital eye strain

To prevent digital eye strain, Dr Lister recommends the following tips from Allaboutvision.com:

1. Get an eye exam

Before an eye test, measure how far your eyes are from your screen when you sit at your computer. Ask the optometrist to also test your eyes at that specific working distance.

2. Look at lighting

When you use a computer, your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices.

3. Minimise glare

Consider installing an anti-glare screen on your monitor.

4. Upgrade screen display

LCD screens are easier on the eyes and usually have an anti-reflective surface. Old-fashioned CRT screens can cause a noticeable ‘flicker’, which is a major cause of computer eye strain.

5. Adjust computer display settings

  • Adjust the brightness of the display so it’s approximately the same as the brightness of your surroundings.
  • Adjust the text size and contrast for comfort, especially when reading or composing long documents.
  • Reduce the colour temperature of the display. This lowers the amount of blue light emitted, for better long-term viewing comfort.

6. Blink more often

When working at a computer, people blink less frequently. To reduce your risk of dry eyes during computer use, try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help re-wet your eyes.

7. Exercise your eyes

To reduce your risk of tiring your eyes by constantly focusing on your screen, look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object  for at least 20 seconds.

Another exercise is to look far away at an object for 10 to 15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10 to 15 seconds. Then look back at the distant object. Do this 10 times.

8. Take breaks

To reduce your risk for computer vision syndrome and neck, back and shoulder pain, take regular breaks. Stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

9. Modify your workstation

The centre of your screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes for comfortable positioning of your head and neck.

Adjust your workstation and chair to the correct height.

10. Consider computer eyewear

You might benefit from having your eyeglasses prescription customised into computer glasses.

To mark Eye Care Awareness Month this October, Novartis South Africa highlights the impact of prolonged use of digital devices on our eyes.

“With the rising usage of digital devices at home and in the workplace, there is a growing need to create awareness of the long-term effects that increased usage of digital devices have on the eyes,” says Dr Lister. “As a trusted leader in eye care, we provide innovative treatments for eye diseases to address the evolving needs of patients worldwide.”

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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.