In today’s tech-driven world, it is nearly impossible to avoid screens altogether. Many rely on a screen to do their day job; others unwind in front of the TV, and some are lost without their smartphone. In fact, research has shown that British adults spend 4,866 hours a year staring at screens, which means the average adult spends 34 years staring at screens. However, it’s important that we recognise the potential harm these screens may have on our eyes.
Nimmi Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct, explains what computer vision syndrome is and provides some tips on how to avoid it.
What is computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain)?
Computer vision syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain or digital visual syndrome (DVS), is a term given to a set of symptoms that can arise from using digital devices for a long time. Looking at a screen that emits intense light while having to focus and defocus at different distances requires an accommodative effort for many hours at a time. This, in addition to glare from screens, can be harmful to your eye health.
Typically, spending more than three hours a day looking at your phone, computer or tablet is enough time to negatively impact your eye health and, as many office jobs are computer-based, many people nearly triple this limit in a workday alone. That’s before you consider the watching tv, checking social media or playing video games around work hours too. All this amounts to a considerable amount of screen time, resulting in potentially serious eye health problems.
What are the symptoms of computer vision syndrome?
Eye fatigue: Due to the prolonged accommodative effort demanded of our eyes without sufficient breaks, this can lead to eye fatigue which presents as blurred vision and tired eyes.
Dry eye: Dry eye is one of the most common symptoms of CVS. Recent studies have shown that when we use a screen we tend to blink less, which means your eyes get less lubrication, end up with eye dryness and leave them feeling sore and tired.
Headache: The intense light and the pressure to which our eyes are subjected continuously can cause more headaches which can make focusing or going about daily tasks a little more difficult.
Photophobia: CVS can also be responsible for the development of hypersensitivity to light, both natural and artificial – not something you want as we head into the longer days of summer.
It’s also important to remember that screens emit blue light which interrupts and reduces the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Extended screen exposure can therefore cause disruptions to sleeping patterns and quality. Lack of sleep is something that can also negatively impact eye health.
Tips to avoid digital eye strain
Although it is almost impossible to reduce the use of screens if you are dependent on them for your job, there are small habits you can adopt to reduce the impact on your eyes and avoid eye discomfort:
1. Appropriate distance from the computer: When it comes to eye health at work or even at home, ergonomics plays a key role. Your computer screen or monitor should be between 50 and 65 cm away from you. It should also be more or less at eye level to avoid neck problems. The monitor and keyboard should be positioned in a straight line with you. If you are uncertain your set up meets these current requirements, get in touch with the person who deals with DSE assessments at the company you work for.
2. Screen with good resolution: Working with a screen that has a good resolution and is of good quality is necessary to avoid eye strain. When it comes to the actual display on the monitor, having a high-resolution panel (a minimum of 1080p, if not 4K), along with strong RGB colour accuracy settings, and a non-LED panel is what is recommended as better for your eyes.
3. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: To combat and prevent the symptoms of digital eye strain you should incorporate the 20-20-20 rule into your daily routine. This involves looking away from the screen every 20 minutes to look for 20 seconds at a fixed point 20 feet away. This exercise will relieve the stress on your eyes and force the habit of taking screen breaks.
4. Use eye drops: Having hydrating eye drops, or artificial tears, on hand will allow you to manage the discomfort of dry eyes caused by CVS.
5. Conscious blinking: When we are concentrating or staring at screens, we often forget to blink without even realising. Forcing yourself to blink is a handy exercise to alleviate dryness and eye strain.
6. Visit your ophthalmologist. In more severe cases in which the symptoms persist in a severe and prolonged manner, you should make an appointment with a specialist at your local opticians.
7. Have an eye examination. If you spend a lot of time in front of screens, it’s vital that you have your eyes tested at least once every two years to monitor your eye health. You’ll also be able to get an up-to-date prescription for your contact lenses.
8. Spend your free time on a screen detox. We know that after a long day at work, it’s tempting to turn on the TV and watch the latest episode of your favourite series. Scrolling through Tik Tok and watching adorable kittens and people doing impossible dances is a great way to unwind, and like these, there are plenty of activities that involve an electronic device. But how about going outside, having a coffee with a friend, doing some sport, listening to an album or podcast while enjoying a cup of tea? Your mind and body could benefit along with your eyes.
In this digital world where electronic devices play an important role in our lives, it’s easy to forget to pay attention to the health of our eyes. So, if you work on the computer all day, it’s a good idea to avoid spending your free time simply moving from screen to screen!