The invention and subsequent improvements of smartphones and laptops have caused many drastic changes to society, many of them good, many of them bad. One thing that is certain, however, is that they have become highly addicting. These days, it’s common for people to spend most of their days and nights looking at an assortment of screens — whether it be for work or pleasure.
The routine happens easily enough: at work you might stare at your computer screen for eight hours, spending breaks to mindlessly check your social media accounts on your phone, only to get home and plop on the couch to relax in front of the television.
Most people are unaware of the harmful effects looking at screens can have on their eyes. In fact, staring at phones and computers for long periods of time can cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) — an issue optometrists are seeing more of as digital devices take a more prevalent role in our lives. The UCLA Stein Eye Institute even offers “Computer Vision Evaluations” and lists steps you can take to combat its symptoms.
UCLA optometrist, Dr. Talin Amadian says CVS can cause symptoms like burning eyes, blurred vision, eye pressure, and headaches. These are caused by high-energy visible (HEV) light wavelengths (also known as blue light) which can cause irritation and damage to the retina.
Additionally, blue light affects melatonin production, which makes it difficult to sleep. According to Forbes, the sleep issue has been partially addressed by new versions of smartphones that come with a “night mode” which changes the lighting on your screen to help combat insomnia.
And it’s not just adults that too much screen time is affecting. Children are often exposed to iPads, smartphones, and computers before their eyes have fully developed, and today’s kids are spending more time indoors with their devices instead of outside playing. Not only can this affect the way a child interacts with his or her peers, this could also cause long term vision problems.
Dr. Christopher Starr told CBS News that the eye needs “natural light for the eye’s maturity, and if you don’t have that natural light, the eyes might get longer and more near-sighted.” Parents should make sure their children get designated time away from digital devices daily, as well as a yearly eye exam to make sure they don’t have any vision problems that could be exacerbated by screen time.
Dr. Amadian recommends the 20-20-20 rule when using devices, explaining: “For every 20 minutes that you look at a screen, you should look at something 20 feet away, for about 20 seconds.”
Another great method for reducing strain is by using overhead lighting and keeping your computer 35-40 inches away from your eyes, with the middle of the screen approximately 5-6 inches below eye level. In order to make this a habit, try to only use your computer while sitting at a desk or table, not in bed or on your lap.
As for smartphones, Dr. Amadian recommends not using your phone in the dark and keeping the screen steady in front of you. If you feel strained while reading on your phone or laptop, try zooming into articles on a laptop, or change the font size of your phone in settings. An additional tip is to use an extension like F.lux for Chrome, which shades the screen with a light orange color to reduce glare and reflections that contribute to eye strain.
All of these recommendations are helpful for reducing strain, but the best way to reduce the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome is to use digital devices less in general. Although these devices have become a staple in our lives, it is helpful to both our physical and mental health to set aside time to do activities and hobbies that don’t involve screens.