The rise in popularity and use of technology and digital screens has had tremendous benefits for individuals and communities across the globe. There are, however, many negative effects of the excessive use of computers and other digital screens – whether in terms of behaviour, development, or health. The Medical Station believes that eye health is an often overlooked and under-discussed topic when it comes to thinking about the health implications of digital screens. Our clinic explores some of the short and long-term effects of increased screen time on eye health and vision.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is not a specific eye problem, but rather refers to a collection of symptoms that can result from repeated or continued digital eye strain. Digital eye strain can occur from two or more hours in front of a digital screen, this includes computers, tablets, smartphones, e-readers, and other electronic devices with visual displays. Staring at digital screens for a prolonged period requires our eye muscles to focus at near range and reduces the frequency at which our eyes blink. Just like any other muscle in our bodies, this type of repeated strain and stress causes injury to the eye muscles. The symptoms of CVS include:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry red eyes
- Irritated eyes
- Eye fatigue
- Neck or back pain
CVS can affect anyone who spends a significant amount of time behind a digital screen, especially if the lighting and positioning isn’t ergonomic. Though Computer Vision Syndrome is temporary, The Medical Station recommends regular eye exams and monitoring of screen time to ensure you are protecting and promoting eye health.
Increasing Rates of Myopia in Youth
There are some particularly concerning effects being seen with regards to youth eye health. CTV recently reported on the dramatic increase in myopia, also known as near-sightedness, around the world. In North America roughly 42% of the population is myopic and requires glasses or contacts for distance vision. More concerning though, is the rising rate of myopia in youth, also referred to as accelerated myopia. Eye care professionals are attributing this dramatic increase to the use of digital screens, which is negatively affecting eye development. Myopia results in the reduced ability to see at distance and the need for glasses or contact lenses; it can also lead to more serious eye health concerns, such as retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma. Some eye care professionals point out that in addition to the harmful effect of staring at a digital screen, this activity is often done indoors – resulting in reduced exposure to natural light, which is necessary for proper eye maturation.
Another eye health concern resulting from increased digital screen time is retinal damage caused by HEV light. HEV light, or high-energy visible light (also known as blue light), is the light emitted from screens. There is concern from eye care experts that this high-energy light may cause permanent harm and damage to our eyes as it can reach deeper in the eye than other types of light. Animal research has shown that HEV light can damage tissues in the retina consistent with retinal changes associated with macular degeneration. Researchers and care professionals are still unsure of the effects of HEV on human eyes and if the HEV light exposure from screens is sufficient to cause this level of retinal damage.
Eye Care Tips from The Medical Station
For better or worse, digital screens are a part of our daily lives here in North York. The Medical Station has some helpful tips for eye health harm reduction when it comes to our use of digital screens.
- Follow the “20-20-20” rule – every 20 minutes take a 20 second break from your screen and look at something 20 feet away
- Actively remind yourself to blink – this may sound silly, but studies show that we may blink up to 50% less when staring at a digital screen
- Get comprehensive clinical eye exams regularly
- Set up your screens “eye-gonomically” - place the screen below eye level and try to keep an arms length distance from the screen (when possible)
- Use artificial tears to lubricate dry eyes
- Reduce screen glare
- Try to limit your screen time and get outside as much as possible!