Many of us rely on computers and other digital devices for work, communication, and entertainment. However, all that screen time has some people concerned that prolonged computer use could damage your eyes. It’s certainly a troubling thought — but how much truth is there to it?
We’ve spent years educating people in Calgary and Didsbury about how to take care of their eyes, so we can tell you all about the hazards of staring at computer screens for too long. Read on, and learn the best ways to prevent your digital devices from impacting your vision.
What Are the Real Consequences of Prolonged Computer Use?
First, the good news: there’s no compelling evidence that using your computer will blind you. Now that you’ve (hopefully) relaxed a little, we can talk about some of the realistic effects staring at computer screens can cause.
Computer use is linked to a condition called Digital Eye Strain (or DES). DES may affect at least 50% of all computer users and present a wide variety of symptoms. Symptoms generally fall into two categories: those associated with dry eye disease and those linked to accommodative or binocular vision stress.
Symptoms Associated with Dry Eyes
An estimated 6 million Canadians suffer from dry eyes. Although dry eyes will not directly cause permanent vision loss, people who have them can still experience severe difficulty and discomfort when performing everyday tasks. Common symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Eyes that produce fewer tears than usual or eyes that frequently water
- Eyes that feel irritated (sore, tired, itchy, etc.)
- A burning sensation in the eyes
- The sensation that a foreign object (such as dust or debris) is stuck in one or both eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Consistent or recurring blurry vision
Research suggests that dry eye symptoms may worsen the longer you use a computer, hinting at a relationship between dry eyes and DES. However, numerous therapies exist for dry eyes, and an experienced optometrist can help you address their symptoms.
Symptoms Associated with Accommodative or Binocular Vision Stress
This second category of DES symptoms is related to the way your eyes focus. Put simply, staring at a screen close to your face can tire out the muscles that control the lenses in your eyes. You may experience several things when you overwork these muscles, such as:
- Difficulty keeping your eyes open
- Difficulty refocusing your vision between viewing objects at different distances
- Blurred vision immediately after using a computer
- Trouble keeping your eyes open
- Headaches in the area behind your eyes
- Trouble concentrating
- Soreness in your neck, back, or shoulders (as a result of hunching forward to compensate for your trouble focusing)
It is important to note that none of this category’s symptoms are exclusively caused by looking at a computer screen for long periods. You would also likely experience them if you spent the same amount of time concentrating on any other nearby object. It just so happens that when we stare at something up close these days, it often has a digital display of some kind.
How to Prevent and Manage Digital Eye Strain
The silver lining in all this is that you don’t need to stop using computers entirely. All you need to do is prevent yourself from overworking the muscles that control your vision and stay alert for signs of dry eyes.
Here are a few easy tips for avoiding discomfort during computer use:
- Take breaks. Some optometrists recommend using the 20-20-20 rule: stop looking at your screen once every 20 minutes, and focus on something approximately 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. Remember to blink during the 20 seconds so that your eyes remain lubricated.
- Try not to use your computer frequently in dry environments. Staring intently at your screen in a dry room may contribute to — or exacerbate — dry eyes.
- Use protective eyewear. Many opticians sell lenses that filter out specific light frequencies and reduce glare, which prevents the muscles in your eyes from straining themselves.
Of course, routine eye exams are especially necessary if you use computers often. Your eye doctor can help you identify signs of DES and dry eyes before they pose significant challenges and can present you with options for dealing with them.
Don’t Fear Computers — Learn to Use them Properly!
Computers and other digital devices aren’t going anywhere soon, so the best thing you can do is learn to use them without putting your eyes at risk of DES. Consult your optometrist today and make sure you’re following the right steps to use your computer comfortably.