If you work in an office in front of a computer, you are probably familiar with the signs that it’s time to take a break: tired eyes, neck and back pain, and difficulty focusing on your work. Anyone who’s spent serious time in front of a computer knows what those uncomfortable symptoms feel like.
Digital eye strain is becoming more common, due in large part to the rapid adoption of smartphones, tablets, and personal computers. These devices place stress on our eyes, though it isn’t always obvious that’s the case. If you’re prone to spending hours at a time using your computer or looking at your phone, chances are that you have felt digital eye strain first hand.
If eye strain is impairing your ability to work, be productive, or use digital devices, we invite you to speak with one of our optometrists. We can help relieve the symptoms of eye strain, as well as give you tools and techniques that will help manage its long-term impacts.
Eye strain is not reserved for just digital devices: anyone who has been engrossed in a real page-turner knows that, after a while, your eyes get fatigued. These symptoms are typically temporary, though many people that experience digital eye strain do so chronically due to behaviour and lifestyle factors.
The eye exam is non-invasive and is not painful.
Causes – The mechanisms responsible for eye strain are fairly well understood. Essentially, if we consider how our eyes evolved over time, two things become very clear: first, what our eyes evolved to do and what they actually do are very different; second, our eyes have not had time to adapt to their new requirements.
The eye’s ideal focal point is approximately 31” (roughly 1 meter) away from our face. This is the point where our eyes naturally see and focus the best. Most people that use a computer or smartphone do so with the device much closer than 31”, forcing their eyes to work harder to remain in focus. Over time, this is fatiguing to the small focusing muscles responsible for near-vision.
Symptoms – Eye strain’s symptoms are often confused with other unrelated problems. They include:
Behavioural changes – Most people can greatly reduce the severity of their eye strain symptoms by making habit, environmental, and lifestyle changes. Reducing digital device use is an obvious (albeit difficult) first step. Moving computer screens and TV’s to at least 31” away is also recommended, as this will allow the eyes to more naturally focus on the screen.
Finally, following the 20/20/20 rule can make significant improvements in symptoms. The rule is simple: every 20 minutes look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This gives your eye focusing muscles a break and can greatly extend how long you can remain at a computer before eye strain sets in.
Controlling your environment – Your environment can play a big role in the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Making environmental changes conducive to alleviating eye strain can go a long way in helping control symptoms. We recommend:
Reducing exposure to HEV light – High-energy visible light (HEV) is light with wavelengths close to the UV spectrum. Think blues and purples. HEV light has been shown to promote eye fatigue and strain (and is also linked to other problems). Wearing glasses that have a HEV-filtering coating and using software that reduces blue light in the display (such as f.lux) are both recommended, especially when using the device at night.