Think back on your day as you sit and read this. Chances are you were sitting and reading/writing something else in front of one screen or another. And although there is growing awareness about the damage that a sedentary life can do in terms of physical health (obesity, heart disease, diabetes to name a few), we rarely pause to blink and think of the impact all this screen time is doing to our eyes.
If you've ever experienced blurred vision, dry or itchy eyes, or head, neck and back pain after using a screen device, then you have first-hand experience of what we now have a term for--digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome.
While the jury is still out on whether digital eye strain can cause permanent damage in human beings, animal studies do show that high-energy visible light or HEV light (blue light in layman's terms) can damage retinal tissue in a way that parallels macular degeneration which causes permanent vision loss in the elderly. HEV light, which has a known potential to damage living tissue, is emitted by our smart phones and tablets. Considering that we spend roundabout seven hours a day staring at phone and tablet screens (according to this US study at any rate), it would be prudent to take stock of our habits.
But before you throw up your hands and say that less screen time is not an option, do note that you can take some simple measures to protect your eyes from excessive strain.
1. Keep your distance
In brief, the further away you are from your screen the less eye strain you'll experience. You really don't need to be within smooching distance of your screen! Try to literally keep an arm's length between yourself and your screen and try to increase font size if you're tempted to inch closer. Also, avoid peering into your phone. Keep it as far from your eyes as long as you can see the reading/viewing material on the screen clearly enough.
2. The 20-20-20 rule
As a rule of thumb, take a break from your screen every 20 minutes. The break should last at least 20 seconds and should be used to look at something at least 20 feet away. This relaxes your eye muscles and encourages blinking which helps keeps your eyes moist. The result: you won't feel such an itch in your eyes.
3. Get your eyes checked
Just to rule out problems with your eyesight or spectacle power, get an eye exam done. These issues can make you more prone to digital eye strain.
4. Go shopping
Ask your eye doctor about spectacles that are especially designed to accommodate extended use of devices. Some products are manufactured to reduce your exposure to HEV light. It might be worth the investment if you're a heavy user of digital devices. At the very least, your glasses should have anti-reflective coating, which helps minimise eye strain.
And, of course, the advice that makes the most sense and that most people will ignore the quickest: do something else with your time! Go to the park, go for a walk, take up cooking, do something fulfilling that doesn't require a screen.
By Dr. Ashvin Bafna, Specialist in Vitreoretinal Surgery and LASERS, Cataract surgery,
Lasik and Refractive surgery from The Eye Associates Mumbai (TEAM)