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Screens hurt your eyes. Here’s what you can do to save them

Have you ever felt like your eyes were like two peeled grapes watching a microwave spin?

If so, you may be suffering from the effects of excessive screen time. Turns out staring at our phones, tablets, and laptops for too many hours a day is not good for our eyes. This can cause symptoms of digital eye strain, resulting from the hard work our peepers have to do to navigate a screen.

According to the American Optometric Association, the use of telephones, computers and other devices requires specific, but particularly demanding, “skills” of our eyes, including eye mobilitycoordinate the transition from one position to the next; accommodation, the ability to change focus from one distance to another; And vergencedirecting the eyes towards the nose and away from the nose, depending on the distance.

“Our eyes were not designed to use computers and digital devices, especially for long periods of time,” Dr. Robert C. Layman, former AOA president, said in an email.

“As a result, many people who spend long hours reading or working on screens experience eye discomfort and vision problems.”

In the world we live in and with all the great stuff at our fingertips, it’s probably not realistic to completely cut out screen time (although it can be done). So here’s what to know about what being glued to a screen can do to your eyes and how to safely take them off.

Eyestrain and blue light: what too much “screening” does to your eyes

There’s been a lot of debate about blue light, which we receive in large doses from the sun and in smaller amounts from our screens. Blue light exposure signals our bodies that it’s time to feel awake, which is one reason why using your phone before bed can be one of the biggest disruptors. sleep because it disrupts our sleep-wake cycle.

Although research shows that exposure to blue light from the sun over time may increase the risk of diseases leading to vision loss, including macular degeneration and cataracts, it has not yet been shown that the risk affects the light coming from our electronic devices. devices, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Available research tends to show damage to retinal cells at 3 microwatts or more, according to the AMDF, compared to the typical 1 microwatt of light that passes through our screens.

Dr. Matt Starr, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said in an email that blue light, on its own, “does not cause permanent eye damage.”

Layman, however, said overexposure to blue light can cause digital eye strain, which in some patients can lead to age-related vision problems.

Aside from the effects of blue light, eye strain is a common and uncomfortable problem. While it may be experienced “a little differently from person to person,” it’s a group of symptoms that stem from staring at a screen for a long time, according to Starr.

“Common symptoms include blurred vision, foreign body sensation, itching, headache and dry eyes,” he said.

Interestingly, Layman says screen time may also lead to a higher risk of infection in some cases because we blink less when looking at a screen.

“Blinking helps create and spread tears on the cornea, which helps keep your eyes hydrated,” Layman said. “When the eyes don’t have enough tears to flush out foreign bodies, they become more prone to infection.”

A person looks at their phone and the screen lights up their face

Further research on the effect of blue light from our electronic screens is needed. But looking at your phone every night before bed is bad for your health because it disrupts your sleep-wake cycle.

Cavan Images/Getty Images

So, do blue light blocking glasses really work?

There is not really any proven medical benefit yet. But there is no harm in seeing if they will help you.

“While some patients report the benefits of using blue light glasses when using computers, smartphones and tablets to prevent eye strain, the reality is that there are not enough scientific data to support or deny their benefits at this time,” Layman said.

Personally, I sometimes use a pair of blue light glasses when I feel extra eye strain or need extra focus, and I usually find it a little easier to focus. But I don’t know if it actually helps my eyes feel less strained, or if it’s just a placebo effect that helps me shift my perspective slightly. Starr confirmed that this may be the latest with this study from the American Journal of Ophthalmology, which found no difference between people wearing placebo glasses and blue light glasses.

But because blue light glasses are so cheap (I bought mine online a few years ago for less than $15), they’re worth trying out if you spend hours in front of a computer, just to see if it helps you at all. Prices start around $9 at places like Walmart or Amazon, or you can read our review of the best blue light glasses.

Is using “dark mode” better for your eyes?

One of the biggest crowd cheers at this year’s Google I/O event happened when the tech company announced that Bard, Google’s AI chatbot, is going dark mode. But is it really something to celebrate, from an eye health perspective?

It may depend on the brightness of the room you’re using the screen in, according to Layman. He said “dark mode” might be better in a dimly lit room, but not completely dark, and light mode (black text on a white page, aka “positive polarity”) is better in a room with lighting typical. Layman pointed to this 2013 study, which found that positive polarity allowed people to see details better.

Starr adds that using a dark mode or enabling “night mode” on your phone has some advantages in how easily our eyes can adapt.

“The contrast and colors used in night mode reduce glare and are intended to help our eyes adjust more easily to surrounding light, resulting in less eye strain and easier, more comfortable reading,” a- he declared.

Similar to blue light glasses, you should try playing around with dark mode where it’s available to see if it helps your eyes or makes them less strained.

Can screen time make poor vision worse?

When I went to the optometrist last month for an eye exam, I asked my doctor this question and he told me that the research was not there to give a causal answer one way. There may be a chicken or egg scenario at play.

For example, nearsighted people may sit closer to their screens and potentially expose themselves to more eye strain or blue light, but this might not actively cause a worse prescription, but rather be based on the fact that ‘they can’t see well and have to bring their face closer to the screen.

Starr had a similar explanation: “Some studies suggest that work-like activities, such as reading or using screens for hours and hours at a time, can lead to increased myopia, especially in children whose eyes continue to grow,” he said. .

According to AAO Information on Vision Development, research has shown that children who spend an extra 40 minutes outdoors each day have a lower risk of nearsightedness or severe nearsightedness (a very strong prescription), compared to children who spend more time indoors, either using computing devices or reading. The AAO adds that there is no direct link, but that having children spend more time outdoors (and less time indoors staring at a screen) is good for their health. .

Tips to protect your eyes from technology

Whether or not staring at a screen all day permanently damages your eyesight, there are a few simple things you can do to make them feel more comfortable.

  • Keep your phone “reading distance” from your face. This trick comes from Layman, who says it will reduce the focus demand on your eyes.
  • Enlarge your font. Another tip from Layman, upgrading your font size can also make the viewing experience more comfortable.
  • Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Starr and Layman recommend that every 20 minutes you take a 20-second break from your screen while looking 20 feet away. “Blink, close your eyes and look 20 feet away on the break,” Starr said.
  • Where possible, use pen and paper. (Even if you feel ridiculous.) This trick is not backed by science, but it is useful for me (I am very nearsighted and I work in front of a computer all day). I use a physical notebook as my calendar because it’s a little relief for my eyes, which are normally glued to my laptop. I also use a pen and paper if I write something for fun and to take notes.
  • Limit screens an hour or two before bed (and whenever you can). This bedtime rule is a piece of advice from Starr. Not only will limiting screen time before bedtime help your eyes, but it can also help you feel less stressed and detach from the tasks of the day. Learn more about how to reduce the time spent on the phone.

Layman and Starr both stressed the importance of eye exams, which are generally recommended at least every two years, but more often if you wear glasses or contacts, or have discomfort or pain in the eye area. eyes. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can prescribe medicated eye drops or find other causes of eye discomfort in addition to screen time, in case you need them.

Learn more: Is your vision deteriorating? It’s time for an eye exam


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