Computers, tablets and phones – chances are that you look at at least one, if not more, of these devices every day, as they’ve each become must-have tools for living in the 21st century. Unfortunately, while electronic screens won’t cause permanent eye damage, using them as often as we now do can cause painful symptoms if we’re not careful.
In fact, anywhere between 50 and 90% of the people who work in front of a computer screen currently suffer from related symptoms. And it isn’t just adults who can develop symptoms after looking at screens too long - easy access to phones and portable games, and an increased use of computers at school, have resulted in more children experiencing symptoms after using electronics for too long. With adults and children alike looking at so many screens so often, it’s important to understand how this can affect your eyes and vision - and to know what you can do about it.
How Electronic Screens Affect Our Vision
The most common side effect of looking at electronic screens as often as we do is eye strain. It’s so common, in fact, that many experts refer to screen-induced eye strain as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). And the symptoms of eye strain, while not permanent or even necessarily serious, can definitely interfere with our quality of life; common symptoms of eye strain and/or CVS include:
- sore eyes
- dry eyes
- teary eyes
- blurry vision
- double vision
- light sensitivity
- difficulty focusing on images
- neck pain
- regular, chronic headaches
How CVS Develops And Occurs
CVS occurs because looking at an electronic screen is surprisingly hard work for our eyes. While looking at screens we typically move our eyes back and forth and up and down repeatedly, if not constantly. Every time we do this, our eyes must refocus and realign to take in what we are looking at. As a result, the screens that we look at all day give our eye muscles quite the workout.
To complicate matters, while there are other things we do that require the same movements and refocusing - such as reading books - our eyes must deal with an additional element when they focus on electronic gadgets: the light from their screens. Depending on the work environment and brightness of your screen, your eyes will be exposed to varying degrees of screen contrast, flicker and glare whenever you use a computer, phone or similar device - and that’s not always easy for our poor overworked eyes to handle!
In addition to working harder, we don’t blink as often when looking at electronics, most likely because we become engrossed in our task and we forget to do so. Unfortunately, fewer blinks mean that our eyes are not naturally refreshed as often as they need to be - and as a result, existing eye strain symptoms may grow even worse.
What You Can Do To Address Electronic-Related Vision Issues
The good news is that you don’t have to live with CVS symptoms, even if you can’t get rid of all of the electronic screens you work with each day. To ensure that your eyes work as effectively and as little as possible, try doing each of the following things to make your screens more vision friendly:
- Set up your computer and workspace properly. One of the easiest ways to make things easier on your eyes is to set up your computer monitor or laptop in an “optimal position” for them. Experts say that adults should set up a computer screen 24-36 inches away from their face (make that 18-28 inches for children). Additionally, the top of a computer monitor should sit around 4 inches below eye level; this will put a minimum amount of stress on your neck or eyes, and will ensure that you don’t have to strain too hard to see your monitors. (And if you have to work with printed materials as well, try setting up a stand that sits right next to your computer, to reduce the strain that comes from looking back and forth!)
- Use tablets and phones correctly, too. Just like computers, tablets and phones should also be set up to reduce eye strain. This means setting up a tablet at a 30 degree angle when typing (and then at whatever angle is comfortable when reading). You should also always hold your phone at about the distance you would hold a book, at a slight angle that's set just below the level of your eye. These set-ups should reduce the amount of stress put on your neck, wrists, and eyes alike.
- Adjust your electronics’ settings. It isn’t just the position and angle of your electronics that you can take control of! Font size, brightness, and contrast settings are all things you can adjust on your phones, computers and tablets. Adjusting each so that your eyes are comfortable and not straining will make your work much easier. Your best bet is to adjust each of these settings on each of your devices one by one, and to see which combination of setting is the most comfortable to look at for an extended period of time.
- Cut down on the glare. Glare and reflections from other light sources can make it difficult for you to instantly see what’s on your screen, forcing your eyes to work harder to decipher what they’re looking at. To cut down on the amount of work your eyes have to do, try making some adjustments in the lighting surrounding your work areas, as well as around any areas at home where you typically use an electronic device. Adding shades to windows, using a dimmer light switch on overhead lights whenever possible, and investing in an adjustable desk lamp are all simple ways to do this. (And if that’s not enough, you can always invest in a glare filter for your device!)
- Take breaks. The easiest way to help your eyes is to take regular breaks from computer screens. Experts recommend looking away from electronic screens every 20 minutes or so, and taking at least 20 seconds to look out of a window or at an object in the office that is at least 20 feet away. It’s known as the 20-20-20 rule, and it’s definitely a rule that is worth following as closely as possible!
- Talk to a doctor if necessary. If you find that making adjustments does not ease your CVS, a visit with your eye doctor can help. Your doctor can carry out a comprehensive exam and determine whether or not any of your symptoms are due to vision issues that can be corrected with an updated prescription for glasses or contacts. Your doctor may also recommend using a certain kind of eye drop to ease your symptoms; or, in some cases, they may even recommend a set of computer glasses that could help increase contrast perception, as well as filter out glare and reflective light, to reduce symptoms of eye strain. (And don’t forget that your children may also be dealing with CVS, so regular eye doctor visits are recommended for them as well!)
CVS is a very real side effect of living in the 21st century, but it’s not one we have to live with continuously. Each of these tips, once implemented, will help you take control of your surroundings and give your eyes the care and assistance they need in today’s world. If, however, you still have questions about technology and how it may be impacting your vision, we encourage you to contact your doctors here today - we are more than happy to take a look and to answer any questions you may have!