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Six Tips for Handling Digital Eye Strain

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In today’s society, it’s rare to find an adult, teen or child who doesn’t come into contact with a digital computer screen on a frequent basis. People conduct business on desktop and laptop computers at work, and teens and children use tablet computers in school. Some people use eReaders to read books and magazine, while others use smartphones to stay connected with friends by sending text messages and perusing social media sites. It’s great to be living in the digital age, but looking at a digital screen for hours at a time can wear on the eyes.

According to a recent survey from the American Optometric Association (AOA), 85 percent of parents say their children use an electronic device up to four hours a day. And, in a survey conducted by The Vision Council, more than a third of adults in the U.S. say they spend between four to six hours a day using digital computer devices (14 percent say they spend 10 to 12 hours a day looking at digital screens). With more people of all ages looking at digital screens for long periods of time each day, one has to wonder how this impacts the health of the eyes…and if there are any issues associated with the prolonged use of looking at digital screens. The answer is yes. In fact, digital eye strain is the most common computer-related repetitive strain injury, exceeding carpal tunnel and tendonitis.

Digital eye strain is caused by the overuse of digital devices such as computers and smartphones. Since these electronic devices are designed to be used and held within close range of the eyes, after a while, the eyes become strained as they continue to refocus to process the images on the digital screen. According to organizations like The Vision Council, more than 70 percent of Americans don’t know or don’t believe they are at risk for digital eye strain; however, anyone who is in front of a digital screen is vulnerable. Red eyes, twitching eyes, dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches, neck pain, decreased productivity and more work errors, fatigue from staring at a digital screen, and straining to see small fonts and images are some of the signs and symptoms that occur when experiencing digital eye strain.

“In our fast-paced society, most people use a computer throughout the day while they’re at work. At home, they also go online to communicate with friends, read books, and even pay bills,” said Dr. Elizabeth Kraft of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “It’s just the way we operate in the 21st century. Nevertheless, people can stay digitally connected and also maintain the health of their eyes.”

Kraft suggests the following tips for avoiding digital eye strain:

1-Follow the “20-20-20 rule”-Be mindful of the amount of time that is spent looking at a computer screen without taking a break. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something that is 20 feet away. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye and reduces eye fatigue.4

2-Reduce glare-People often see reflections from objects around their computer on their computer screen. Install an anti-glare screen on the computer monitor to reduce glare on the screen. Cover windows with drapes and blinds, and use a computer hood to block some of the overhead and peripheral light. Get anti-reflective (AR) coating on eyeglass lenses. AR coating works by decreasing the amount of light that is reflected off the front and back surfaces of the eyeglass lenses5.

3-Work in proper lighting-When looking at a digital screen, the surrounding light should be half as bright as what is typically found in most offices6. Try to position the computer screen so windows are on the side (instead of in front or behind) the computer screen. If the interior lighting is an issue, consider reducing the number of fluorescent tubes that are installed above the computer. Consider turning off the overhead fluorescent lights in the office and use lamps that provide halogen or incandescent lighting, or switch to lower intensity bulbs.

4-Blink often- People tend to blink less often when they look at a computer screen – approximately one third less often as they normally blink – and a lot of the blinking that takes place when looking at a digital screen are only partial lid closures7. Blinking less often can cause the eyes to become dry. To reduce the chances of experiencing dry eyes when looking at a digital screen, try this exercise: Every 20 minutes, blink 10 times by closing the eyes very slowly, as if falling asleep8. This will moisten the eyes, and it will also help the eyes refocus9.

5-Revise the work space- When working on a computer, people often look back and forth between the computer screen and a printed page, which can cause eye strain. To alleviate the stress and strain on the eyes, put the printed pages on a copy stand that is next to the computer monitor10. Make sure the paper on the copy stand is well-lit by using a desk lamp. Poor posture can also lead to problems with clearly seeing a digital screen. Consider purchasing ergonomic furniture where the computer screen is positioned 20 to 24 inches from the eyes11. The center of the digital screen should be 10 to 15 degrees below the eyes12.

6-Get a regular comprehensive eye exam - According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), computer users should have eye exams once a year. Before the exam, be sure to measure the distance between the eyes and the digital screen. Share that measurement with the eye care provider, and remember to let the doctor know how often computers and smartphones are used. People who have a plan such as Anthem’s Blue View Vision℠ plan have access to a broad and diverse national network of more than 30,000 doctors and more than 25,000 locations across the U.S. who offer comprehensive exams that address digital eye strain.

Although the signs and symptoms associated with digital eye strain can be uncomfortable, there are a number of easy solutions that can fix this problem. Following one or more of the tips listed above will relieve the strain that is put on the eyes during this digital era.

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