What is Digital Eye Strain and How Does it Affect Us?

Modern life brings with it a lot of benefits – but there are also many stressors. Juggling work and play, family and friends can be a real chore at the best of times, and at the worst of times, various everyday occurrences and obligations can have a second-hand effect on our health.

Yes, many of us have to live with the stress and anxiety that comes with the working day, but what about the more physical side effects of working life?

Take Digital Eye Strain, for example. It is something that many of us will experience at some point – perhaps quite regularly. But what is it and how does it actually affect our eyes? And more than that what can we do to prevent it?

A Stressor for Our Eyes

Our eyes take a lot of strain on any given day. From squinting under bright lights (whether the sunshine or artificial lights) to taking a battering from harsh winds (or air conditioners), we unwittingly put our eyes through regular ordeals which most of us don’t realise can cause them damage.

And that’s before we even get to our utter reliance on screens. Whether it’s scrolling through Instagram or your news app on the commute, staring at your monitor in the office or binge-watching the latest must-see series on Netflix at the end of a long day, it’s hard to imagine a day without our screens.

But this constant exposure to screens could actually be causing more damage than you think. Digital Eye Strain – sometimes called ‘computer vision syndrome‘ (CVS) – is the most common computer-related repetitive strain injury. In fact, it is estimated that many of us are now at an increased risk of CVS – though, ironically, only around 1 in 5 of us have heard of the condition!

What causes Digital Eye Strain?

As mentioned, Digital Eye Strain can occur due to an overuse of screen technology- but what about our screens exactly causes damage to our eyes?

Well, exposing our eyes to screens such as computers, televisions, smartphones, and tablets for prolonged periods of time means the eyes have to continuously refocus themselves in order to process graphics and text. As our eyes strain to keep up, we may develop a number of symptoms, including:

  • Red and sore eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain
  • Fatigue

Staring at a screen can also cause a reduction in our blinking rate. Blinking is an important function which keeps our eyes hydrated, healthy and working at their best. As we reduce how much we blink, our eyes soon begin to dry out which can cause discomfort. The average person blinks around 18 times per minute, but when we are using a screen, this drops to just 9 times per minute!

Despite the extreme prevalence of Digital eye Strain, there are a number of things we can do to address it and reduce its effect on our eyes.

Perhaps the most important step in protecting ourselves against Digital Eye Strain is to become aware of it: as we mentioned earlier, it is currently estimated that only one-fifth of us are! When we know what is causing the discomfort and dryness in our eyes, it is that much easier to tackle it head-on. Now, let’s take a look at some easy things we can do to reduce our risk…

Blink more!

This might sound pretty straightforward, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget to blink when we are staring intently at a screen. However, making a conscious effort to make sure you are blinking enough when working on that important work assignment (or playing Candy Crush) can be really effective.

Tip: Professor Reinstein favours the online tool Blinking Matters to help him out during the working day, which uses a webcam to measure your blink rate.

Invest in Artificial Tears

Yes, we said artificial tears – also known as lubricating eye drops. These drops can help to address dry eyes caused by Digital Eye Strain (or other conditions) immediately. They are a great option if you regularly experience dry eyes when at work and can also come in handy in other environments that may be linked to eye dryness, such as planes.

Dry eyes are also a common side effect of Laser Eye Surgery. Luckily, at London Vision Clinic, all our patients are provided with a supply of free lubricating eye drops to tackle this issue and improve their comfort after Laser Eye Surgery.

Give your eyes a break

Another easy, yet effective way, to reduce Digitial Eye Strain is to simply give your eyes a break every so often! The best way to do this is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This involves breaking up your time spent looking at screens.

For example, every 20 minutes, you should stop what you’re doing at your screen, and look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will allow the muscles in your eyes to relax after the time spent straining to register whatever it is that happens to be on your screen. It will also encourage a more natural blinking rate.

Rethink your set-up

All of the above can go a long way to managing Digital Eye Strain, but there are things you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place. One of the best courses of action is to optimise your workspace for a more comfortable experience.

You can start by adjusting your screen brightness. Having a screen that’s set too bright can contribute to the problem and further encourage dry eyes. Turn down the brightness to a level that feels comfortable – brighter isn’t always better!

Next, think about adjusting the text size on your devices. You might think this will make you look old – but better that than being in pain or discomfort. This will reduce the need for your eyes to strain themselves trying to read small text. You might also consider putting your device in ‘Dark mode’. This inverts the colour (white text on a black background as opposed to black on white) which further reduces screen brightness!

Finally, many devices now allow you to adjust the colour temperature of your screen. This is usually called a ‘Blue Light filter’. Blue light — short-wavelength visible light that sits just above invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the spectrum — carries high amounts of energy and is associated with eyestrain, insomnia, and even permanent retina damage when the light is intense.

Consider an eye test

Ask any expert about dealing with digital eye strain and they’ll likely tell you to, before anything else, have a comprehensive eye exam. There is a chance that you have an underlying refractive error that may be making you more susceptible to Digital Eye Strain.

Errors such as long-sightedness and short-sightedness can cause your eyes to have a hard time focusing. Unsurprisingly, this can contribute to eye strain. Refractive correction aids, such as glasses, contact lenses, or solutions like Laser Eye Surgery could help to address this.

If you have any more questions about the health of your eyes or are thinking about Laser Eye Surgery, get in touch with one of our friendly clinic coordinators. Alternatively, Book a Consultation today.