Corona, and our ongoing battle against it, is no longer just about the virus itself. At this point the ripple effects of Covid can be seen in every sector of our lives.
From family, to work, to school, and on and on.
And, just those areas alone have each led us to one place…our computer screens (tablets or phones).
Want to see family from afar? Zoom or facetime…meaning screen time.
Working from home? From meetings to assignments…screen time.
Schools and colleges not holding in person classes? Pull out the tablets and computers for more…screen time.
Can’t meet with family or friends or even go to the park anymore? Sure kids, go ahead and watch Frozen again for the 1,569th time since there’s nothing else to do. Or, maybe that’s extra Netflix binging for the adults, but either way…screen time.
There doesn’t seem to be a way to escape screen time right now. But, what is this added screen time doing to your health, specifically the health of your eyes?
More and more people are headed to their eye doctor due to all of the added time spent in front of a screen lately.
So, let’s take a look at why, and some ways you can combat the negative effects of increased screen time.
How Increased Screen Exposure Affects Your Eyes
The extra time we’ve been spending in front of screens lately has been taking a toll on our eyes.
So, what is it about those screens that harms our eyes, and what signs should you be looking for that point to the fact that you may need to adjust your screen routine a bit?
First, think of what you’ve learned in regards to light and how it can affect your eyes.
Anyone remember being told as a child *not* to look directly into the sun.
While screen light isn’t exactly as bright as the sun, its effects can certainly be negative.
Screens typically produce light in short waves known as high energy blue light, which is the light from your screen that is mostly associated with eye strain and its subsequent effects (which we’ll look at momentarily).
Combine the length of time you expose your eyes to a screen, the blue light itself, and your close proximity to the screen, and you’ve got a recipe for eye strain disaster.
In fact, one doctor (Yos Priestley of the Duke Eye Center), explains it directly, “our eyes are not built for long periods of visually focused work.”
When you spend long periods of time in front of a screen, your eyes have to work harder than they are “built for” to focus on screen movement.
When staring at blue light from your screen, you also blink approximately 33% less than when not in front of a screen. In other words, staring at that screen is drying out your eyes.
So, what do those negative effects of too much screen time look like when it comes to your vision?
Especially if you wear contact lenses, too much time spent in front of a screen can dry out your eyes.
As we just noted, you blink less frequently (33% less) when in front of a screen.
The thing is, your eyes rely on blinking to rewet or replenish tears. Those needed tears protect your eyes from infection. And, a lack of tears can lead to inflammation and even damage on the surface of your eye.
If your eyes are feeling dry, irritated, or even gritty or scratchy, this can all stem from too much screen time.
We recognize that overuse of other parts of our bodies can cause strain.
For instance, we use our legs to walk each and every day, but when we spend extra amounts of time on our feet, we often lament such overuse the next day.
Our eyes are no different. And, as we saw earlier, they aren’t even “built” for extended periods of time spent focusing.
So, as we spend extended periods of time in front of a screen, frankly, our eyes get tired.
You may experience blurred vision, double vision, dizziness, headaches, or difficulty concentrating all stemming from too much strain being placed on your eyes due to increased screen time.
When speaking of damaging your retina, it sounds like we’re going to extremes here, but the fact of the matter is, the blue light emitted from digital screens can affect your retina, which lines the inside of the back of your eye.
The cells inside of your retina are sensitive to blue light and research shows that this type of light can indeed damage those cells.
The American Optometric Association states that this damage is most likely to occur in children as opposed to adults.
Lessening The Negative Effects Of Increased Screen Time
So, moving on from the gloom and doom of the damage too much screen time can cause to your vision, there are some things that you can do to minimize these negative effects.
Seeing those numbers together closely resemble this year numerically, and that can almost be scary at this point, but these 20’s are here to help.
Often referred to as the 20/20/20 rule, this simply refers to a practice that can help you avoid eye strain when using a screen for a prolonged period of time.
For every 20 minutes that you spend in front of a screen, pause and look at something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
Especially for children, setting a timer to remind them to do this can be effective.
This rule can also help you to remember to take needed breaks, taking time to stretch and walk away from your screen for a brief moment.
Especially when using a tablet or phone, you can end up in a position where your eyes are far too close to the screen.
As a general rule of thumb, you should put at least a forearm’s length between you and your screen.
And, make sure that your screen is at or a little below eye level.
No, we’re not talking about late 90’s alternative rock here.
No, we’re not talking about late 90’s alternative rock here.
When in front of your computer screen or tablet, you actually need to remember to blink.
As we mentioned earlier, you blink considerably less when in front of a screen, and that action, blinking, is vital to the health of your eye.
Be conscious of it as an adult, and be sure to remind your children, who are spending increased amounts of time in front of a screen, to blink.
One doctor recommended pattern is to blink three times, pausing briefly on the last blink. For instance, “blink, blink, squeeze (or pause)” can replenish tears and prevent dry eyes.
Patterns like this can be especially beneficial for children to help them remember to blink more while in front of a screen.
From the screen itself to overall room lighting, these settings matter when it comes to the health of your eyes.
1- Seek to fill your work space with natural lighting.
2- Lower the blue light level of the screen, if possible.
3- Try to match the level of light emitting from your screen with the light in the room. In other words, the light of your screen shouldn’t be the brightest light in the room. Especially avoid using screens in a dark room. Be sure to turn on another light in the room or adjust your screen’s lighting.
4- Adjust the angle of your screen if necessary to lessen glare, which can lead to eye strain.
There are actually a few types of glasses that can help with the negative effects of increased screen time.
Anti-glare glasses or anti-reflective coating on glasses can lessen the amount of glare from the computer or tablet screen, keeping eye strain at a minimum.
Blue light glasses can also reduce the negative effects (mentioned above) of excess screen time by blocking the blue light emitted from digital screens.
Prescription or even over-the-counter drops known as artificial tears prove to be beneficial for some who experience the eye-drying effects of too much screen time.
Such drops can mimic natural tears, preventing your eyes from overdrying and the subsequent damage this can cause.
So, while you may find yourself in a position that demands increased screen time, you can minimize the negative effects of this by incorporating the above practices.
It is important to note, however, if you (or your child) are experiencing continued problems with your vision, resulting from too much screen time or not, a visit to your eye doctor may be necessary.
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