Eye Health In The Digital Age

  • Swati SharmaMaster of Dental Science - Operative Dentistry, King George’s Medical College, Lucknow, India

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Overview

Eye health involves our vision, ocular health, and optimal functional ability to ensure general well-being and quality of life.3

The digital age has brought along both advantages and disadvantages. Technology has infiltrated all aspects of society, and electronic devices have influenced every aspect of our existence, eyes being no exception. Digital eye strain is a new-age dilemma. It affects all ages of the population and can impact working professionals in 1st world countries to those less advantaged individuals living in 3rd world countries. For this reason, we need to explore eye care with a new perspective.

Importance of eye health 

Today, the youth needs dynamism, high-intensity activities, and digital modes of learning and training. Children and youth grow up using smartphones, computers, and tablets from an early age, this can affect long-term eye health if not monitored correctly. Symptoms associated with excessive use of electronic devices include neck pain, mood swings, decreased mental performance, and eye strain.

Excessive use of gadgets: ocular side effects

The evolution of technology has distanced us from nature and brought problems that could never have been anticipated. Vision, an integral part of quality life, now seems to suffer at the hands of the electronic devices that we admire. It causes:

Digital eye strain

Eye strain is a common health issue. It includes tiredness, visual disturbances, or eye discomfort related to the overuse of digital devices. Continuous use of digital devices for long durations predisposes the eye to suffer blurry vision, difficulty focusing on distant objects, headache, and diplopia (double vision).

Middle-aged people naturally experience a loss of focusing ability on nearby objects (presbyopia). Glasses are needed for the correction of this problem. Their eyes suffer additional stress from viewing devices. 

Dry eye disease

Dry eyes, sore eyes, burning, itching, and irritation can occur after looking at screens from a fixed distance for long periods.

Progression of nearsightedness (myopia)

Continued near work and close working distances cause progression of myopia. People are able to focus on objects close to them but are unable to visualise objects that are far away.2

Computer vision syndrome (CVS)

The ocular complaints relating to the continuous use of computers are known as computer vision syndrome.4 It has been noted that using computers for 4-6 hours each day can lead to vision-related problems. CVS is the widely acknowledged occupational hazard of the twenty-first century.

MECHANISMSYMPTOMS
ExtraocularNeck stiffness
Neck pain
Shoulder pain
Headache
Backache
Ocular surfaceTears
Gritty
Dryness
Redness
Burning sensation
Contact-lens-related problem
Accommodation mechanismBlurring of vision
Double vision
Presbyopia
Myopia
Slowness of focus changes
Table 1 Common symptoms related to computer vision syndrome and mechanisms causing it5

How does eye fatigue occur? 

Bright and fluorescent lights cause glare and discomfort. Adequate lighting is needed to avoid strain and visual fatigue.

The display characteristics are different in digital devices compared to those in print. The pixels on a computer screen are bright in the center and dull towards the edges compared to conventional print where the outer edges are sharp and defined. The pixels on the computer cause continuous strain on the eye.

The eye-focusing mechanism is not designed for the screens. Good contrasts should exist between the background and the letters. Focussing on a computer causes frequent eye movements, continuous focus, and alignment demands, leading to prolonged activity of muscles and strain.

All screens, mobiles, and LCDs emit blue light (of wavelengths 400-500 nm) which is harmful to the eyes. The peak damage occurs at 440 nm. Long duration and exposure to less intense light also cause photochemical damage.

Blue light affects our bio-circadian rhythm, and our natural sleep and wake cycle. Dim light on the other hand encourages the release of melatonin hormone from the pineal glands which stimulates sleep.6

While working on a computer, an individual has incomplete and reduced blinking. The upper eyelid does not cover the entire cornea in an incomplete blink. Blinking maintains the tear film stability if most blinks are complete. Incomplete blinks cause tear film break up due to reduced tear film thickness, causing dryness of the eyes.6

Improper distances from the screen and not maintaining a good posture while viewing devices contribute to eye fatigue. The general recommendation for the distance between the computer and the eyes should be 35-40 inches (90-100cm). The screen should be 5-6 inches (12-15cm) below eye level. An ergonomic computer workstation improves eye health.5

Eye care in the digital age

Our eyes need care whether at home, at work, celebrating at party venues, playing, or while experiencing illness. 

We are exposed to many different agents during our daily routines which can contribute to eye injury e.g. chemicals used as sprays at home, working with computers in the office, injuries during welding, grinding metals, and injuries in the garden to name but a few. We need to take care of our eyes and protect them from all potential threats.

Preventing blindness

Radical advancement in numerous medical fields has been made to promote preventative care and early intervention of eye-related diseases. Telemedicine and home monitoring programs have been game changers in eye care. Preventative care and assessments have been made accessible to patients who would otherwise have to travel long distances to have access to specialist medical care. 

One such example is the Joslin Vision Network, which makes use of an innovative retinal imaging programme. Patient images and data are sent to a remote evaluation centre for interpretation by an expert team. Appropriate treatment and guidance for each patient is advised.

Device-related

Protective gear

Protective blue light glasses and screen covers protect eyes from radiation. Blue light glasses are specially designed to filter out the blue light that is emitted by screens and reduce the amount of harmful light reaching our eyes. The glasses have a slightly yellow tint that counteracts the blue light. This allows other types of light through but shields your eyes from the harmful, high-energy blue wavelengths. Not only can blue light glasses reduce the amount of eyestrain you experience, but they can also decrease other side effects like headaches and fatigue.

The use of screens preventing dust accumulation also prevents glare.

Keeping the device at arm’s length

Most activities previously done from a distance are now done on digital devices. The ideal distance of 20 to 40 inches between the device and the eye has decreased. Ensure that you follow the guidelines for the distance between the computer and the eyes which is approximately 35-40 inches (90-100cm). The screen should be 5-6 inches (12-15cm) below eye level.

Appropriate work space

Building workstations in well-lit rooms while maintaining proper sitting postures and proper positioning of devices helps to take care of our eyes. 

Time-related 

Limiting screen time

Modern times require extensive use of computers and mobile devices. A voluntary and intentional reduction in screen time goes a long way in eye care.

Frequent breaks

Taking frequent breaks from the computer increases productivity. Following the 20-20-20 rule which suggests a 20-second break after every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away.

Exercise

Blinking as an exercise

Regular blinking causes tears to lubricate eyes and keep them moist. It prevents drying of eyes. 

Environment related 

Quality of light

 Yellow LED lamps in homes reduce blue light exposure. 

Regular check-ups

Consider visual screening and regular check-ups for early detection of any changes. 

Diet

Eating fresh green vegetables and fruits provides antioxidants. Carrots rich in beta

Carotenoids and vitamin A are beneficial for eye health. Other vitamins needed for eye care are vitamins C and E.

FAQs 

What is the digital age?

The Digital Age, the Information Age, refers to the technology-based economy of the twentieth century. It is the transition from an industrialized economy to a knowledge-based economy.

Why is eye care necessary?

Caring for your eyes is a lifelong process to ensure healthy vision, disease prevention, and the early diagnosis of any eye-related conditions are its features. Learning to care for your eyes is a lifelong path to healthy, comfortable vision.

Why does working at a computer screen hurt my eyes?

Working on a computer screen for long hours can cause dry eyes and eye strain. Overcome these issues with the use of artificial tears and take regular breaks. It is essential to have your prescription glasses up to date.

What is eye strain?

Eye strain is a common health issue. It includes tiredness, visual disturbances, or eye discomfort related to the overuse of digital devices. Continuous use of digital devices for long durations predisposes the eye to suffer blurry vision. Blurred vision, difficulty focusing on distant objects, headache, and diplopia (double vision). 

Summary

Technology is an integral part of modern society. Many professions rely heavily on the continuous use of screens for many hours per day, this overuse can impair our vision. Caring for our eyes will increase longevity, and productivity, and decrease the burden of disease. Improving eye health unlocks human potential.

 We should be mindful of factors contributing to eye strain.1 To protect your eyes

  • Correct refractive errors
  • Correct blinking patterns (reduced blinking and incomplete blinking)
  • Reduce exposure to intense lights
  • Do not work too close to a digital screen
  • Keep font size optimal while working on computers
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Create a proper work environment

References

  1. Berns GS, Capra CM, Moore S, Noussair C. Neural mechanisms of the influence of popularity on adolescent ratings of music. NeuroImage. [Internet] 2010 [cited 2024 Apr 13]; 49(3):2687–96. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1053811909011410.
  2. Hussaindeen JR, Gopalakrishnan A, Sivaraman V, Swaminathan M. Managing the myopia epidemic and digital eye strain post COVID-19 pandemic – What eye care practitioners need to know and implement? Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, [Internet] 2020 [cited 2024 Apr 13]; 68(8):1710. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/ijo/fulltext/2020/68080/Managing_the_myopia_epidemic_and_digital_eye.70.aspx.
  3. Skoblina N, Shpakou A, Milushkina O, Markelova S, Kuzniatsou A, Tatarinchik A. Eye health risks associated with the use of electronic devices and awareness of youth. Klinika Oczna / Acta Ophthalmologica Polonica. [Internet] 2020 [cited 2024 Apr 13]; 122(2):60–5. Available from: https://www.klinikaoczna.pl/Eye-health-risks-associated-with-the-use-of-electronic-devices-and-awareness-of-youth,124,41041,1,1.html
  4. Blehm C, Vishnu S, Khattak A, Mitra S, Yee RW. Computer Vision Syndrome: A Review. Survey of Ophthalmology. [Internet] 2005 [cited 2024 Apr 13]; 50(3):253–62. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0039625705000093.
  5. Loh K, Redd S. Understanding and Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome. Malays Fam Physician. [Internet] 2008 [cited 2024 Apr 13]; 3(3):128–30. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170366/.
  6. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ Open Ophthalmology. [Internet] 2018 [cited 2024 Apr 15]; 3(1):e000146. Available from: https://bmjophth.bmj.com/content/3/1/e000146.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Swati Sharma

Master of Dental Science - Operative Dentistry, King George’s Medical College, Lucknow, India

Swati is a dentist with several years of experience in clinical dentistry. My professional interests are diverse from writing, reading, and creating. I am a medical writer and content creator. I author children’s storybooks, blog and create video stories.

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