What is Blue Light?
Digital devices have become a daily, integral part of our lives. We use them at work, whether it’s bringing a laptop into the office or sitting down at our monitor. They live in our pockets. We’re constantly texting, researching, working, and goofing around on our smartphones. Many of us have replaced them with traditional books, opting for tablets like iPads and Kindles instead. Indeed, digital devices have made our lives far easier than ever before. We hold all the information we ever need at our fingertips and can compute faster and more accurately than a human mind ever could before. This has made us more powerful, intelligent, and better equipped to tackle the problems of the world.
Not coincidentally, we use digital devices now more than ever before. According to The Vision Council, an independent group of eye doctors comprised of optometrists and ophthalmologists, the average American now spends 7.5 hours in front of a screen every day. In fact, the average citizen of the world spends almost the same amount of time: 7 hours a day. Much of this computer use happens at work (or when we’re on our phone). According to the same group, nearly 50% of all Americans have jobs that require prolonged computer use. With this increased screen time comes consequences. The American Optometric Association estimates that 50% – 90% of computer users suffer symptoms of Digital Eye Strain (also known as Computer Vision Syndrome). And The Vision Council reports over 200 million Americans already report these symptoms.
What is Digital Eye Strain?
Simply put, Digital Eye Strain (abbreviated to DES or CVS for Computer Vision Syndrome) are symptoms caused by staring at digital devices for too long. You might also be wondering what is eye strain and how one experiences eye strain from a computer? In fact, this could be a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a computer monitor. There are a variety of eye strain symptoms that people can experience; some people report all of them, some report just one, and many report a mix. The most common symptoms include:
• Eye fatigue / tired eyes
• Eye discomfort
• Dry eyes / itchy eyes / irritated eyes
• Blurry vision / double vision
• Neck pain / shoulder pain / back pain
Similar to how people experience different symptoms, some people are more prone to symptoms of eye strain and Digital Eye Strain than others. Some experience specific elements of Digital Eye Strain more acutely.
What causes Digital Eye Strain?
Two of the main culprits behind Digital Eye Strain are Blue Light and glare. These byproducts of computer screens can contribute to many of the aforementioned symptoms including eye strain, eye fatigue, headaches, eye headaches, irritation eyes, and blurry vision. Blue Light is high energy light that digital devices emit. Blue Light sits at the top end of the visible light spectrum, right next to UV light, and therefore has short wavelengths (which is inversely correlated to energy level). That’s why another name for Blue Light is HEV light: high-energy visible light. Years ago, screens did not produce much (if any) Blue Light because the screen technology was different. Now, our screens are much more energy efficient which is better for the environment, less burdensome on the energy grid, and more economical. However, the downside is that the high energy light can bother our eyes. In addition, Blue Light has some other negative effects. Blue Light also suppresses our melatonin secretion, which helps us fall asleep at night. Using digital devices at night can, therefore, lead to it being harder to fall asleep at night or poorer sleep quality. Lastly, there are studies in animal and stem cell models that show a correlation between overexposure to Blue Light and retina damage, most specifically what appears to akin to age-related macular degeneration. This could make sense knowing that UV light is known to damage our skin and cornea, which is why we wear sunblock and UV coated sunglasses to protect ourselves.
The second culprit, glare, is unnecessary feedback that enters into the eye. This, in turn, stresses our eye and cause issues like eye strain and headaches. Glare exists elsewhere in the world as well. Some people are particularly prone to oncoming car lights while driving at night. This also is due to a sensitivity to glare. There are other contributors to Digital Eye Strain, as well. A common issue is that our eyes were never designed to stare at any object up close, electronic device or otherwise, for long periods at a time. Our eyes are naturally at rest when staring 20 feet away. Looking at something like a phone, tablet, or computer, which is generally 18-24 inches away from us, creates stress on the eye. Most specifically, it causes the ciliary muscle in our eye to spasm back and forth to adjust to this close proximity viewing. This contributes to symptoms like eye fatigue, blurry vision, and headaches as well. By adding a slight magnification, we can better relax the ciliary muscle to help negate these uncomfortable effects.
Beyond Blue Light, glare, and up-close viewing, there are a few other reasons why we experience Digital Eye Strain. Reduced blink rate is a problem. Often, we’re so absorbed with what we’re doing with our digital devices that we forget to blink as much. Blinking prevents our eyes from drying out. Thus, dry or itchy eyes can often be attributed to less blinking. Posture and positioning of devices is another factor. We often hunch over our digital devices, which can lead to neck, shoulder, and back pain. We also position our devices in inconvenient, problematic ways, which further hurts our posture by forcing us to sit in awkward positions. These are easy problems to fix by simply changing your desk setup!
1. The 20-20-20 rule
This is the first defense against DES and is widely recommended by optometrists and ophthalmologists. It’s pretty simple: every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This reduces stress on your eye and can combat the negative effects of digital devices.
2. Computer glasses
If the 20-20-20 rule is too hard to follow (or, too easy to forget), it isn’t enough to subside the symptoms, or you want more protection, then computer glasses are a great step in preventative protection. Computer eyewear lenses are specially designed to filter Blue Light and eliminate glare, which are two of the main culprits behind Digital Eye Strain. All lenses use an anti-reflective coating (AR coating) to reduce glare. Traditionally, lenses are heavily tinted yellow to filter Blue Light. This has two disadvantages. Not only are yellow-tinted eyeglasses aesthetically unappealing, but they also distort your color perception, as everything you see is a shade of yellow. A newer way to filter Blue Light is via a coating. These coats look clear until in front of a screen, at which point they turn a blue hue as the coating is deflecting the Blue Light. Unfortunately, coatings are less effective. Generally, they don’t target the highest energy wavelengths of Blue Light. They also can chip, which defeats the purpose of Blue Light filtering computer eyewear. Lastly, some computer glasses (also known as Blue Light glasses) offer a slight magnification to reduce stress on the ciliary muscle, which also strains our eyes. We have this as an option in our non-prescription lenses. However, magnification often does not make sense in the real world. People tend to look up and down from their screens, attend meetings, and are not as “glued” to their screens as they think. In these cases, magnification can actually lead to further discomfort. People can report dizziness, nausea or disorientation because the magnification affects their vision. Because of that reality for some people, we also offer a non-magnified lenses option!
3. Eye drops
Reduced blink rate dries out our eyes, which contributes to Digital Eye Strain. Using eye drops or artificial tears will moisten your eyes and can help mitigate negative effects of particularly dry or itchy eyes.
4. Eye exam
Regular eye exams are also helpful as your eye doctor can recommend remedies, including a specific brand of eye drops.
5. The proper work station
It’s important that your computer is set up at the proper work distance. You should be sitting in a good chair (or use a standing desk…even better). Use a high-resolution monitor to avoid squinting. And make sure you have proper lighting. If everything else around you is dark, then you’ll further strain your eyes!
Is Digital Eye Strain permanent?
Luckily, Digital Eye Strain is not a permanent vision issue. By following some or all of the solutions above, you should rid your problem in no time!
Why do they call it Digital Eye Strain?
Most credit The Vision Council, the aforementioned group of eye doctors, with coining the term. It’s also referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome. Both terms are used interchangeably, and optometrist or ophthalmologists are generally familiar with both.