Have you been experiencing headaches, dizziness, and worse, blurred vision after hours spent on the computer? How about after using your smart phone? Yes? If so, you may be at risk of developing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain. CVS is a condition resulting from focusing the eyes on the computer or on a digital screen for a prolonged period, which most of the time is continuous and uninterrupted. It covers a broad range of vision-related problems, and complaints are on the rise as the use of digital devices are increasing year on year. In a study conducted by IAB Australia and Nielsen in 2015, it has been reported that smart phone and tablet ownership in Australia have increased by more than 38% and 78% respectively for each device. This rate is equivalent to 15.3 million units for smart phones and 11.2 million units for tablets sold in 2015 and we know that the figures are even higher now as we have all embraced a more digital lifestyle.
The effects of prolonged screen time can lead to more serious eye problems. As you spend more hours on these digital devices, your eyes are being put on an endurance test which is causing them extreme exhaustion. The effects may not appear instantly but issues may develop over time. We do hope that you report any minor concerns to your optometrist right away but for now, we want you to be aware of what you could be dealing with if you are indeed someone who spends a lot of time looking at these screens. Here are a few things we wish you knew about the effects of prolonged screen time.
1. Digital screens expose you to blue light
Although we see sunlight as white, it is actually composed of seven colour rays – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet lights. The red range has longer wavelengths and carry less energy while those in the blue range have shorter wavelengths and thus carry more energy. Blue light has many benefits such as memory booster, cognitive function enhancer, and is generally needed by children as not enough sunlight can cause jaundice in newborns and could also impair eye development. On the other hand, too much exposure to blue light can increase the risk of macular degeneration.
Blue light is everywhere and that is because its primary source is the sun. There is a small amount of blue light emitted by digital screens but this small amount multiplies exponentially because of the huge amount of time that we spend on our computers, smart phones, and tablets.
2. CVS is more common than you think.
This is not a surprise as subjecting your eyes to uninterrupted sessions of staring and focusing on a screen will, of course, exhaust the muscles around them. About 50% to 90% of people whose work involves computers exhibit some form of eye strain like irritated or sore and even dry eyes. Other symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, headaches, neck or back pains.
If you are someone who uses computers on a regular basis, better check with your optometrist the ways by which you can protect your eyes. It may include arranging your workstation, fixing the lighting in your room, adjusting the brightness and contrast of the screen, using eye drops, or using a special type of eye glasses. But for the protection to be more effective, best that it is specially prescribed for you by an eye specialist who knows and understands your eye care history and needs. Never ignore the chance to care for your eyes now while it is not yet late. Remember, prevention will always be better than cure.
3. Myopia is on the rise here in Australia and in the US. Sadly, this report includes myopia in children as well.
Myopia is also known as nearsightedness. It causes people to have difficulty seeing distant objects clearly. It is one of the most common refractive errors of the eye and is being considered by eye care experts now as a public health crisis in waiting. Why is this so? According to the Myopia Program at the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Australia, 5 billion (50% of the world population) people will be myopic while 1 billion (10%) people will be highly myopic by 2050.
The program even elaborates that this has now become very alarming because myopia is also prevalent even in children who are aged 18 years old and below. They conducted a study back in 2004 on 12-year old schoolchildren in Sydney and found out that 12% have myopia. The number increased to 19% when they did the study again in 2009. Myopia in children is now at 30% globally.
Could our little ones be at risk of developing myopia? Yes, if they are allowed too much screen time. Children’s eyes are too young to be exposed to intense screen exposure, receiving too much blue light and being put to a strenuous eye muscle workout. Their eyes are not yet built for that kind of activity. Be sure to monitor your children’s computer, phone, and tablet usage at home. Talk to their school as well on how they approach this matter.
4. Presbyopia is not directly caused by CVS but you will need help to better see things that are on digital screens.
Presbyopia is an eye condition whereby focussing up close becomes more difficult and it occurs in everyone around age 40. People with presbyopia have trouble looking at small screens such as tablets and smartphones and even at computers that are very bright.
We gradually lose the ability to see things up close as we age meaning presbyopia is normal but this does not mean patients should give up on activities that include the use of computers or other digital devices. They may still do so with the aid of reading glasses, or bifocal or progressive addition lenses. There are also multifocal and monovision contact lenses. Others undergo surgery for treatment. There are several options available and it is always best to work with your optometrist in determining the best approach that is right for you.
Too much screen time as you have just read can cause discomfort, eye strain, and vision problems. As a general advice, optometrists would recommend the 20-20-20 rule. It is very simple to do so try your best to practice this most especially if you are a heavy digital device user: for every 20 minutes screen time, for 20 seconds, glance at something that is 20 feet away from you. Also, if you think that you might be suffering from CVS or if you are concerned that your little one might be at risk, go and see your optometrist right away. Have your eyes checked at The Eyecare Place or call (03) 9429 2889 if you have other enquiries.
Also, watch out for our succeeding blogs and we’ll discuss more information about CVS and other eye care issues as well as tips on how to deal with them.