If you use your smartphone as an alarm clock, you are involved with a digital device the second your eyes are open. Sound familiar? Multiple screens have aided our personal and professional lives in many ways. One can have a computer screen up, their cell phone next to them for texts and a television on in the background for news or updates. Not to mention a work conference screen or theatre presentation for a client.
All that eyeballing comes at a cost, according to a survey by the Vision Council and the American Optometric Association (AOA). Nearly 90% of Americans use their devices for at least two hours a day and 70% are glued to multiple screens at once.
The survey polled more than 10,000 adults and found that 65% of Americans experience digital eye strain (defined as physical discomfort, dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and neck or back pain) after staring at a screen for hours. People who used just one device fared better than those using multiple screens: only 53% of them had symptoms of digital eye strain, compared to 75% of digital multitaskers.
Eye strain is a problem especially for people in their twenties, who have the highest rates of symptoms, nearly 73%. “What we’re finding is that Millennials are very comfortable working on multiple screens and multiple devices,” says Justin Bazan, an optometrist and medical adviser to the AOA for the study.
The strain is where the urge to rub your eyes at the end of a long workday comes from. Even if you can’t print out every page you read in a day, or if your workspace is flanked by flashing screens, there are still way you can protect yourself. Below are some tips from the AOA on contributing factors and how to protect your eyesight.
❖Far, Far Away
Several factors contribute to digital eye strain, including how close you are to your screen. People typically hold small devices 8-12 inches away, a closeness that decreases blinking rates. “Blinking is crucial to keeping the ocular surface well protected from environmental assaults and our eyes from drying out,” Bazan says. “They’ll become dry and irritated, and vision will become blurry as well.”
Blue Light is the high-energy, visible light emitted by your digital devices. Preliminary research is showing that blue light, similar to UV light, can cause damage to the cells inside of our eye, and the retinal cells that produce vision. Bright overhead lights can cause glare and increase the amount of blue light penetrating your eye. Avoiding blue light with a digital device that isn’t backlit (for example: the original Amazon Kindle) will help.
❖Paper, Not Plastic
Reading a non-digital book (that’s ink on paper, people!) provides eyes with a pretty precise point of focus, solving the problem of digital eye strain. “When we look at ink on paper, our eyes know at what distance the ink and paper is and we can lock the focus on.” explains Bazan. “Since a pixel is a hard target, we see that our focusing system is always in a state of trying to find exactly where the pixel is. That constant focusing causes strain.”
Practice the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes with your screen, give your eyes a 20 second break and look 20 feet away. This practice will relax the focusing muscles. Consider wearing yellow-tinged specialized computer eyewear, which takes strain off the eyes by focusing on the computer, reducing glare and filtering blue light. If you're a stickler for eye safety in the workplace, give your screen a friendly high five: that's the arm distance you should keep to protect your eyes.