The COVID-19 pandemic brought new syndromes into focus. Today, on WORLD OPTOMETRY DAY, the world is shifting lens to focus emphasis on our eyes.

Do you sit in front of a screen at work for hours then leave with a headache, sore, dry, blurry eyes and a painful neck? If so, welcome to Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), a condition just waiting to happen to those who use a screen for more than six hours a day.

Computer vision syndrome, also referred to as digital eye strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Some researchers argue that CVS is the “Number one occupational hazard of the 21st century” and Paediatricians have shared an increase in vision concerns in recent admissions and clinic visits.

Digital Eye Strain

The eyestrain is partly caused by the lack of contrast on a computer screen (compared with ink on paper) and the extra work involved in focusing on pixels of light. By midlife, the eyes lose certain capability of producing lubricating tears. Irritation sets in, adding to blurriness and discomfort.

Both adults and children develop the symptoms when they spend too long looking at a digital screen. Viewing a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder. As a result, the unique characteristics and high visual demands of computer and digital screen viewing make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms.

Uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of computer vision syndrome (CVS) or digital eye strain symptoms. Viewing a computer or digital screen is different from reading a printed page. Often, the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.


Applying the 20-20-20 Rule

The easiest way to avoid digital eye strain or eye strain from any extended near-focus task like reading is to make sure to blink often and to look up from your screen or close-up work every 20 minutes and focus at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This strategy of frequent re-focusing lets the eyes relax and reset is commonly referred to as the 20-20-20 rule.

How can I reduce exposure to blue light from digital devices?

One of the reasons that digital devices put strain on adults and a child’s young eyes is that they may be exposed to too much blue light. Interestingly, both the sun and indoor lights emit some level of blue light but managing the amount of damaging blue light exposure really counts. Certain bands of blue light may be harmful to the retina of the eye over time. So what’s a workable solution?

– One solution is to invest in blue light eyeglasses that reduce the amount of blue light that enters the eyes from computer, tablet and smartphone screens. A number of lens manufacturers produce lenses that filter blue light. Your optometrist and ophthalmologist can provide helpful information.

– Another option is to use blue light screen filters that fit directly over your monitor. If your child is using a phone, you can also try a program which is free to use and adjusts screen colour according to the time of day.

– When children go outside, wearing a pair of sunglasses is ideal to protect their eyes from damaging blue and UV light from the sun.

Eye Comfort and Safety Tips for Adults, Children and Screens

The best way to deal with possible effects of screens on children’s vision is to help them set good habits for use. These same tips are good practices for adults and anyone suffering from chronic dry eyes or eye strain.

– Follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Set a timer to remind the child how often to look into the distance.

– Alternate reading an e-book with a real book and encourage children to look up and out the window every other chapter.

– Avoid using screens outside or in brightly lit areas, where the glare on the screen can create strain.

– Adjust the brightness and contrast of the screen so that it feels comfortable.

– Use good posture when using a screen. Poor posture can contribute to muscle tightness and headaches associated with eye strain.

– Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away: 18 to 24 inches is ideal.

– Remind them to blink when watching a screen.

Emphasise the big three: sleep, healthy nutrition and exercise.

All three are essential to optimal brain growth and development and health and wellness for children and adults alike. Excessive screen time can impact all three. Children who spend more time in front of screens have been shown to eat more fast food and less fruits and vegetables and get less sleep and exercise.

Therefore, it is particularly important to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices as part of the daily routine, as well as balanced screen time to achieve optimal eye health.

Look out for HEALTH PLUS every Tuesday for more informative and healthful articles. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, please email [email protected]