Have you ever taken a step back and thought about how much of your day you spend staring at a screen? In today’s world of constant notifications, newsfeeds, and juggling multiple devices on your daily commute, it can be startlingly easy to spend every waking hour in front of one screen or another without really paying any mind to it.
Technology may be a fact of life these days, but new research into excessive device use is raising concerns that the long term implications for our health go beyond a permanently cricked neck. According to the Vision Council, 60 percent of American spend at least five hours a day on electronic devices, and this need to be constantly “plugged in” could be damaging to our eyesight.
Optometrists are receiving complaints from growing numbers of patients concerned about digital eye strain. Symptoms include dry eyes, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and insomnia. Indeed, instances of this new type of eye condition are now so numerous that it even has a name – “computer vision syndrome”, ostensibly caused by blue light emitted from the screens of the devices that we use every day. But is blue light really to blame, and if so, what can we do about it?
Is Blue Light the Enemy?
Blue Light can be found at the shorter end of the visible light spectrum. Put simply, the spectrum of visible light ranges from longer wavelength colors (reds, yellows) to shorter wavelength (blue, purple) before moving into the invisible part of the spectrum (UV Light). Shorter wavelength light rays emit more energy than their longer wave counterparts, so by the time you get far enough along the color spectrum, you arrive at UV radiation, a wavelength which is fine in small doses, but can be extremely harmful if the human body is exposed to it for long periods of time. Blue light, whilst visible and lower energy than UV light, is still at the more powerful end of the spectrum, which begs the question of what happens to the eye when it is exposed to this wavelength of light for long periods, for example, when you are on a Netflix binge, or working late at the office.
Just as UV light is emitted from the sun and is not a problem in small doses, (for example, it is what gives you a sun tan, but prolonged exposure can lead to sun burn, and even skin cancer in extreme cases), so too blue light in moderation is not a health hazard. Indeed, we don’t just absorb the blue light from our screens – the HEV blue light that is part of the visible color spectrum is also emitted from the sun, and is what gives the sky its blue color. In fact, positive health benefits have been attributed to blue light, including stimulation of endorphins that improve our mood, and regulation of our circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle.
The blue light emitted from computer screens is obviously tiny when compared to that emitted from the sun, but what makes blue light harmful not only because of our prolonged exposure to it from staring at LED screens, but also because our eyes are not that well adapted to blocking it. Whilst our eyes have evolved to be pretty effective at blocking UV light from reaching our retina, for visible blue light, our eyes have evolved to allow it to pass through the cornea and lens and reach the retina directly.
The risk is amplified for children, since blue light can penetrate more directly to the retina when their eyes are still developing.
So if prolonged exposure to blue light can be damaging to our eyes, is there anything we can do about it short of throwing away all our Apple products? Here are a few handy tips to help minimize the effects of blue light and reduce the risk of computer vision syndrome.
1. Get your eyes checked
The best way to pre-empt any eye health issue is to get your eyes tested regularly. This will give you a head start if you are displaying any of the symptoms of computer vision syndrome, and your optician will be able to give you all the advice you need to nip it in the bud.
Even with all the safety measures in place, you still need to go for regular eye tests. It is advisable to have your eyes checked at least once a year.
2. Invest in a computer lens
Recognizing the scale of the problem posed by blue light exposure, the eyewear industry has responded by developing computer lenses. These lenses are treated with a coating that blocks blue light from entering the eye, allowing the wearer to concentrate on LED screens for prolonged periods without straining their eyes.
Originally developed by eyewear brands such as Gunnar, specialist computer glasses were first used by the video gamer community, but as the wider public became more educated about the effects of blue light, and demand for blue light eyewear solutions grew, eyewear retailers both online and offline are focusing more on computer lens services and technology.
One retailer that has recently moved into computer lens services is SmartBuyGlasses, who have recently launched a new function that allows customers to add computer lenses to their choice of designer glasses frame. “With the growing problem of digital eye strain and the associated concerns of the public, it was only natural that we would move into this area in order to provide the eye health solutions that our customers need” explained Doron Kalinko, co-founder and CEO of SmartBuyGlasses. “By linking our existing designer eyewear business to our new computer lens service, our customers have both their fashion and eye health needs covered in one purchase.”
3. Keep Hydrated
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Bottom of Form
Although there are many possible reasons why your eyes may be dry, dryness in the eyes is a common symptom of digital eye strain – your eyes need the water to keep them healthy and lubricated.
One of the best ways to curb dryness in the eyes is to drink plenty of water. The recommended amount of water varies depending on gender, but the consensus is around nine cups for women and thirteen for men.
4. Take a break
For many of us, staring at a screen for hours on end is unavoidable, given how many jobs involve working on computers all day. However, there are some simple exercises you can do to protect your eyes – this is known as the 20-20-20 rule.
Give your eyes a break every twenty minutes. During each break, look away from your screen for around twenty seconds, blink a few times and close your eyes for a few seconds to moisten and refresh your eyes. Once you have done this, stand up, move around and look at something that is twenty feet away. This will allow your eyes to refocus on objects that are further away and avoids the eye strain that can happen when focusing on objects close to you.
5. Clean your screens
How clean is your computer screen? Most LED screens, on computers or mobile phones, are usually covered with our fingerprints, marks and dust particles, and this can actually help intensify the blue light entering your eyes. The worst culprit is the dust that sticks to your screen, since dust particles reflect the light and that will affect your eyes. Cleaning your screens regularly helps to clear your screen of anything that will reflect the blue light and cause more harm to your eyes. It might seem insignificant, but making a habit out of small things like this can make a big difference in the long term.
6. Adjust lighting to suit the mood
The intensity of the light coming from your computer, tablet or smartphone can be very harsh, especially when the brightness and contrast is set on high. If that’s how the screens are on your devices then it’s time to tune down the brightness – you will save both your eyes and your battery from taking on unnecessary strain!
If you’re the type who likes reading e-books before you go to sleep, most devices have a night mode function, which minimizes the light from the screen. Additionally, there are several apps that can help reduce the brightness of your devices and keep them at the same intensity as your indoor lighting – f.lux is one of the most widely used, and is completely free.