Did you know that the average American spends more time looking at a screen in a typical day than they do sleeping? What is all that screen time doing to your eyes and what can you do to protect your vision? Here, seven tips to help reduce your risk of screen-related eye issues.
Kids may be heading back to in-person school and some adults back to the office, but that doesn’t necessarily mean less screen time. Homework, Zoom meetings, FaceTime chats and binge-watching the latest HBO series can all add up to many hours a day of staring at a screen. According to Nielsen surveys, adults spend nearly 11 hours a day using devices to access media, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Other research shows that kids ages 8 to 12 spend about four to six hours on screens and teens up to nine hours a day.
While we should all try to reduce screen time in order to improve our wellbeing, a considerable amount of screen time is probably unavoidable for many of us. Spending several hours each day looking at screens—whether it’s your smartphone, tablet, computer or TV—can lead to dry eyes, eye fatigue, headaches and even blurred vision.
But you don’t have to give up all your screen time to keep your eyes healthy. A few simple strategies can help prevent screen-related eye problems.
Blink more: One of the main reasons that staring at a screen too much hurts your eyes is that when you stare, you tend to blink less. On average, we blink about 15 times per minute. But when you’re looking at a screen, that pace slows to just five to seven blinks per minute . Since blinking gives your eyes a quick break and helps keep eyes moisturized, less blinking means dryer, more irritated eyes.
Keep artificial tears handy: Moisturizing eye drops can help counteract some of the dryness and irritation you feel after too much time on a device. If you’re wearing contact lenses, be sure to pick rewetting drops made specifically for use with contacts. If dry eyes become a chronic problem (even when you’re away from your devices), talk to your eyecare provider about other self-care tips and prescription treatments that can help.
Look up: You can keep digital eyestrain to a minimum by following the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you spend in front of a screen, take a 20 second break to focus your eyes on something about 20 feet away.
Reduce glare: Light in the room, sunlight coming in the window and the screen itself can all increase the strain on your eyes. You can try adding an anti-glare filter to your screen or consider adding an anti-reflective coating to your glasses. It also helps to adjust the lighting in the room. You want it bright enough so that the room is brighter than the screen, but try to avoid light hitting your screen directly and reflecting off it. Dimming overhead lights, using lower wattage bulbs and window blinds can help you find the right balance.
Wear the right vision correction: Your regular glasses or contacts may not provide the correction you need for looking at closer screens (like a phone or laptop). But reading glasses may not be the right solution either. If you consistently feel eyestrain while using a device, discuss it with your eyecare provider. You might need a different prescription for computer work, phone scrolling or TV time.
Adjust your screen settings: Play around with your settings to change the contrast, brightness and text size on your screen. Higher contrast, lower brightness and a larger text size can all add up to less eyestrain—especially when reading on a screen.
Reconsider blue light: There’s been a lot of hype about blue light emitted from digital devices, and blue light glasses designed to protect your eyes from its potential hazards. The main problem with blue light exposure is that it can impact your circadian rhythms and interfere with your sleep. Most experts feel that the intensity of blue light from our devices is probably not high enough to cause significant damage to the eyes. Despite some alarmist headlines, there is no concrete scientific evidence that blue light worsens eyestrain or that it can lead to retinal damage or macular degeneration. That said, we still do not know the long-term effects of prolonged exposure from excessive amounts of screen time. And while blue light glasses may not be necessary to protect eye health, they may help reduce glare, which can lower risk of eyestrain and fatigue.
QE Perspective: Dry eyes and eye fatigue are the most common side effects of prolonged screen time. Those conditions may not seem serious on their own, but chronic dry eyes can lead to inflammation, infection and eye damage, and eye fatigue can trigger headaches and migraines. Make a point of taking digital breaks as often as possible to help keep your eyes healthy.
The jury is still out on how effective blue light glasses are for eyestrain. One recent study found they made no difference in eyestrain symptoms during a two-hour-long computer task. But some experts feel they may help alleviate eyestrain and fatigue during prolonged, cumulative screen time. Either way, blue glasses alone won’t solve the problem of too much screen time. The best way to reduce eyestrain is to limit screen time and take frequent breaks when you do need to spend several hours at your computer.