What are the long-term effects of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, causes dry eyes, headaches and sometimes blurred vision in the short term – but what is known about its long-term impact? In this post, we explore how to advise patients on digital eye strain, and the associated conditions that can affect someone throughout their lives.

As reliance on digital devices for work and leisure continues to grow, more and more people are starting to suffer from digital eye strain. In one survey The Vision Council found that 31% of Americans experienced digital eye strain, not surprising considering 87% of the participants spent two hours or more using a digital screen each day.

Common short-term symptoms of digital eye strain include dry and itchy eyes, headaches, shoulder or neck pain, increased light sensitivity and even blurred version. One of the reasons our eye health suffers in this way is because we blink less often when using a screen – we normally blink every 5-6 seconds but when looking at a screen it is typically every 10-15 seconds. This reduced blink rate dries and irritates eyes, causing discomfort.

These short-term symptoms tend to subside if a person rests their eyes, but the concern is that the eyes don’t ever receive adequate rest. If a person is using a computer at work, a smartphone on their commute and a television in the evening – how does this affect their eye health?

If your patients present with digital eye strain you should recommend the following steps:

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule – take a 20-second break from a screen every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away
  • Reducing screen glare and overhead lighting while using a screen
  • Using the correct screen position and posture when at a computer
  • Position themselves at arm’s distance away from the screen
  • Regular eye tests to monitor eye health

These habits can help alleviate some of the symptoms of digital eye strain and encourage a patient to come for a sight test, but a person can’t completely eliminate the use of a screen or digital device. People rely on these devices to do their jobs, run their lives and make use of leisure time, but will this over-reliance cause long term damage?

The long-term effects of digital eye strain

Sufferers of digital eye strain have intense, prolonged exposure to digital devices, and those devices can cause other eye conditions to develop, and not just in old age.

In our modern lives, children are exposed to screens from a very young age. A survey by The Vision Council found that 55.6% of parents report that their children experience symptoms of digital eye strain. The current generation – known as ‘digital natives’ – have grown up with technology and not much is known about how this will affect their eye health long term. What we do know is that the light and glare from these screens could contribute to myopia, which is a common issue but still something that affects their entire lives.

For adults, carpal tunnel syndrome can be associated with digital eye strain. This is caused by the repetitive motions which your eye makes when you are using a computer. Looking up and down the screen and reacting to images on it can affect your eye muscles, causing twitching and could also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Digital eye strain is caused by repeated and intense exposure to screens, which is also when your eyes are exposed to harmful blue light. Blue light, at certain wavelengths, is currently one of the biggest concerns in eye health.

The majority of people are exposed to it from screens and artificial lighting for most of the day, and bad blue light can lead to conditions like age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is coupled with the fact that people are living longer; AMD has become more of a problem in recent years because of our longer life expectancy. People in their 30s and 40s today will have had decades of blue light exposure by the time they reach old age, significantly increasing their risk of AMD.

Further reading

The Vision Council has conducted extensive research into digital eye strain and how it affects patients; visit their site to read more about their surveys.

Need resources for patients? AAO has a variety of resources to help you inform and educate your patients about their eye health.

Our most recent whitepaper covers the dangers of blue light to eyes, how it affects people and what the future looks like. Download it free to learn more about blue light and eye health.

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