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70 percent of heavy digital screen users complain of eyestrain

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Baby boomers might remember how their mothers would tell them not to watch too much TV, as it would strain their eyes. Fast forward to the 21st century, and now the same might be said of digital screens, according to a report issued Thursday at CES (via the Epoch Times).

The new affliction is called "digital eye strain." According to the study, released by the Vision Council, a trade group for makers of eye care products, 70 percent of adults report that problem, with symptoms including dry eyes, blurry vision, fatigue and neck / shoulder cramping.

The problem, Dr. Joshua L. Dunaief, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute (who has no connection to the Vision Council) told NBC News, is that the blink response is suppressed when using a digital screen.

We don’t blink as much when using screens, because the blink response is suppressed. So we don’t spread tears across our eyes and they wind up drying out.

The solution is an obvious one: Force a blink every 10 seconds or so. It would be, however, unfamiliar to most of us, as blinking is generally an autonomic response.

The survey was done online in OCtober. Of 7,160 U.S. adults, 60 percent of respondents said they spent at least six hours looking at screens daily, and 28 percent reported viewing screens for 10 hours or more. OF those, 70 percent reported eye discomfort. The survey was administered by Survey Sample International using a statistically balanced sample.

Brooklyn optometrist Justin Bazan, a paid consultant to the Vision Council, said:

I see what I would consider a normal patient population, representative of the average experience most people are having. And the problem is that they think [such strain] is normal. It’s so common and pervasive, they consider it a cost of doing business. They don’t know there are things you can do [to prevent eyestrain].

The Vision Council went so far as to warn of more than just tired eyes. Their study warned that users could face serious long-term eye risk, including macular degeneration and cataracts.

More controversially, the Vision Council promoted the idea that blue light emitted by screens could lead to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. That theory came from the idea that blue light (based on wavelength) emitted by screens could lead to age-related issue.

In the 1980's and 1990's, studies of more than 800 Chesapeake Bay watermen showed that they had an increased risk of later eye disease. Subsequent analysis implicated light of 400-500 nanometers in wavelength, so called blue light, as well as some other wavelengths. The fishermen are exposed to direct and reflected sunlight for many hours per day over years.

Dunaief, though, has studied this effect, and said that he has not seen any conclusive evidence that the levels of light from a computer are sufficient to cause eye damage. He did add, though, that “we do not know that exposure to bright computer screens or light on sunny days over many years is without risk.”

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