Ask an Optometrist: Can Too Much Screen Time Harm My Vision?
With the explosion of remote work and remote learning over the last two years, many people are spending more time than ever in front of screens. What effect can this have on eye health, and what steps should you take in order to safeguard one of your most precious assets—your vision?
Can Screen Time Affect Your Eyesight?
Our patients routinely ask us if too much screen time can negatively affect their eyesight. In a word, the answer is yes. Prolonged use of screens can harm your eyes, but not for the reasons you might think.
Essentially, the issue is not that screens themselves are necessarily harmful. The problem with screens is that our eyes focus differently on them than they do on objects in the real world, from trees to faces to printed pages. The result? Eye fatigue, dry eyes, and even negative impacts on circadian rhythm.
One way that our eyes relax and maintain a healthy, low-inflammation state is by fluctuating between focal points. Looking at objects close at hand, and then changing our focus to objects far away, is a healthy, natural rhythm for our eyes.
However, when we look at screens for long periods of time, our eyes do not need to focus and re-focus frequently. Instead, they need to maintain a consistent, unnatural focus on the screen. According to the AOA (American Optometric Association), This can lead to eye fatigue, and even create a cycle of reduced focus followed by more intense eye strain to compensate.
Additionally, The Mayo Clinic reports that the glare and overexposure common with many screens can cause eye fatigue. If an image or screen is too bright (or too dark) compared to its surroundings, our eyes can struggle to focus on it clearly. Phone screens, computer monitors, tablets, televisions, and other screens are often set to a level of brightness that is not optimal for good eye health.
Another disruption to healthy eye function is dry eye. When our eyes are functioning normally, we blink often. Blinking distributes our eyes’ natural tears across the surface of the eyes, continually conditioning them and preventing dryness.
Screen time, however, tends to be associated with a reduced rate of blinking. While focusing intently on a screen, we do not feel the need to blink as frequently. As a result, our eyes do not receive as much moisture as they need and can experience dryness and inflammation.
Impacted Circadian Rhythm
If you’ve ever heard of “blue light,” you may think that it is a type of light that is especially harmful to your eyes However, blue light is not a problem in and of itself. Blue light mimics daylight, and can improve concentration and wakefulness during the day.
The problem is that many people are exposed to significant amounts of blue light during the evening, when their bodies need to transition from wakefulness to sleepiness. Blue light can disrupt that transition, making it difficult to fall asleep and maintain a healthy sleep pattern. Sleep deprivation can lead to numerous health problems, including eye problems.
Taking Steps to Protect Eye Health
Fortunately, protecting our eyes from the effects of screen time is not difficult. There are simple, common-sense steps that anyone can take to maintain eye health. Three basic steps include following the “20 – 20 – 20 rule,” using artificial tears and deliberate blinking to moisturize the eyes, and reducing the effects of screen glare and blue light.
The 20 – 20 – 20 Rule
The 20 – 20 – 20 rule is a simple way to remember that our eyes need to refocus occasionally. Every 20 minutes while using a screen, you should stop for 20 seconds or so, to look at an object in the distance—about 20 feet away. If you have trouble remembering the rule, try setting an alarm or timer to remind you. Your eyes are worth it!
Time for Tears
What about dry eyes? Ideally, you could tackle this problem by simply being more mindful, and blinking more often while looking at screens. Placing a sticky note on your monitor as a reminder is an easy way to make this a habit! However, if you find that you still experience occasional dry eyes, you can consult your optometrist about using over-the-counter eye drops to alleviate discomfort and moisturize your eyes.
Blue Light Blues
As for blue light, one simple solution would be to turn off your screens in the late afternoon and evening, in order to promote a healthy circadian rhythm. If this is a problem for your schedule and commitments, check your devices to see if they include special modes for evening use.
Ask your optometrist if blue light blocking lenses, or eye strain reducing glasses can be a valuable tool help to maintain your eye health. This specialized eyewear is available with or without corrective lenses, and can be a valuable tool when you are racking up too many hours of screen time, and may even assist in keeping your sleep patterns healthy.
Wondering if blue light blocking lenses or eye strain reducing glasses, would be a good fit for you? Schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified optometrists to help you decide whether these glasses are a good fit for your needs and lifestyle.
Everything Eyes is located in Delray Beach, just North of Boca Raton, Florida. We are proud to have over 230 reviews with a near-perfect 5.0 rating on Google. We offer comprehensive eyecare services and feature a hand-curated collection of the hottest glasses and sunglasses. Call 561-499-2055, click here to schedule an appointment, or visit us at 16950 Jog Rd Suite 107-S, Delray Beach, FL 33446.
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