Our own Dr. Andrew Neukirch took the entire day on World Site Day 2016 (Thursday October 13th, 2016) to speak with over 20 different radio programs, both local and nationally syndicated, promoting the awareness of Digital Eye Fatigue. The following is a transcript from one of those interviews:
Good Morning! Today is World Sight Day and optometrists like myself are taking the opportunity to discuss the visual system and raise awareness about some of the issues people face in their day to day lives. Specifically, we’re talking about something that I know so many of you can probably relate to: the widespread use of and dependence on digital devices, and how it can actually impact your eyes. It’s called digital eye fatigue.
- Is all this screen time bad for our eyes, especially for children starting at an early age?
It’s an issue that is widespread and growing. If you use digital devices for more than two hours per day, as 90 percent of U.S. adults do, you may be susceptible to digital eye fatigue. Children and teens are susceptible, too, especially given their digital device usage habits. All elementary students in my area are given iPads.
- Does screen time worsen our vision?
Long-term effects are being studied, but we know that left unaddressed, it not only creates varying degrees of physical discomfort, but also contributes to productivity loss, sluggishness and stress. Over ½ of all adults in the USA are near-sighted, more than 2.5 times the amount from 100 ago.
- What is digital eye fatigue and its symptoms?
Using digital devices is a necessary part of life, but it can take a toll. Digital eye fatigue often results from a combination of everyday factors, including extended exposure to bright light and screen glare plus longer periods of focus on device content. As a result, the muscles responsible for close focusing become overworked. The most frequently reported symptoms of digital eye fatigue include tiredness, dryness, eye irritation, and eye strain. Other symptoms include back and neck aches, headaches and more – symptoms that people commonly attribute to something else. Switching from on-screen to off-screen and back all day can overwork your eyes – and lead to tiredness, dryness, and redness. Digital device users don’t blink as often, resulting in an unstable tear film that can lead to dryness symptoms. Digital eye fatigue is experienced by seven in ten adults living in the United States, yet is often dismissed as “normal” by a population increasingly dependent on their devices. More than 90 percent of adults may be susceptible to digital eye fatigue, due to digital device usage greater than two hours per day
- Many of us have to stare at a screen all day because of our occupations. What do you recommend?
A number of options are available. I suggest starting with a conversation with your eyecare provider about what your specific visual needs are, especially while at work or in school. In addition to prescription corrective glasses and contact lenses with specific features to reduce digital strain, newer high-end large monitors (4k displays) can help with strain significantly as well.
- Is digital eye fatigue reversible?
Long-term effects are being studied as persistent device use occurs. For now, our focus is addressing it before the onset of symptoms if possible, as well as reducing the symptoms.
- What are the warning signs of conditions that are more serious than mere eye strain?
If you’re experiencing severe headaches, pain or redness in the eye after spending time with a digital device, this likely isn’t due to digital eye fatigue and I recommend that you schedule an appointment with your optometrist – especially if it has been more than year since your last eye examination. Any other new symptoms – likes flashes or floaters, or sudden losses in vision – are true emergencies and need to be addressed immediately.
- Would it be good for our eyes to take a complete break from digital screens once in a while, say, for a 24-hour period? Is that even possible in today’s world?
There are a number of recommended practices, such as the 20/20/20 Rule: looking away from a screen at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. However, we know that with busy lifestyles, people are not regularly incorporating these recommendations into their lives, so we also recommend other options to patients such as prescription glasses that can reduce strain. Some new generation eyewear coatings even block the potentially damaging blue light wavelengths our LED/LCD displays produce. There is also a brand new class of prescription contact lenses that help these specific symptoms as well.
- What are the treatments?
Specialized glasses that block blue light are on the market, commonly targeted at computer users. For the 30 million Americans who wear contact lenses, there are also new contact lenses (such as Biofinity Energys) available with advanced technology that can help ease digital eye fatigue. Orthokeratology is another great option not well-known in the United States simply because it was FDA approved fairly recently and most doctors have to seek out training on their own as it is not a significant part of the most doctoral programs. This treatment involves wearing an overnight mold that, upon removal, corrects vision during the day requiring no daytime corrective lenses and has the added benefit of reducing near strain and the progression of myopia (or near-sightedness) due to the newly reshaped corneal surface on the front of the eye.
- Is screen time bad for these conditions?
Absolutely, and unfortunately is becoming unavoidable in this day and age. We can only take steps to help alleviate these symptoms.
- Some of us were taught by our parents that it’s bad for your eyesight to watch TV in a completely darkened room, or for that matter, have your phone up to your face for 20-30 minutes before bed. Any truth to that?
There is some truth to this. TV in a dark room is more of an old wives tale. However, bringing the phone screen close to your eyes right before bed allows a large amount of blue and bright light to enter your visual system. Just like the bright sun, this makes our brain subconsciously think it’s still daytime and will reset our circadian rhythm making it much more difficult to fall asleep. The major smartphone and E-reader companies have taken note of this and many now provide features that can reduce the blue light transmission during the evening hours. We’ve been hearing a lot about the harmful effects of blue light from screens.
The blue light component is simply only one of the sources of digital eye fatigue. So would blocking or reducing the blue light help? Absolutely. Will it stop the fatigue all together by itself? No it will not.
- What’s the youngest age at which kids can get contact lenses?
Depending on maturity, we will typically start kids in contact lenses around 5th grade. Should they require it for special purposes – such as really high prescriptions, ocular disease affecting the front of the eye – we can train the parents on insertion and removal at a much younger age.
- Do these contacts block or deflect blue light?
At the current time, there is no commercially available contact lens that blocks blue light. But as a consultant to one of the major lens manufacturers – I can tell you that they’re working on it.
- What does the future look like for an optometrist? Do you expect this to be a major issue for a lot of people in the future?
Extremely bright. Again, more than 50% of all young adults and 93% of Americans over the age of 65 wear corrective lenses. As our population continues to age and we live even longer lives, our digital device usage will only continue to increase as well. Technology is also rapidly changing how I practice allowing me to identify early warning signs of serious eye disease much earlier with the use of advanced imaging instruments and being able to provide my patients with more cutting-edge forms of correction through advanced technology prescription glasses, breakthrough contact lenses specifically designed for digital devices like the Biofinity Energys lens, and even the progressive practice of Orthokeratology.