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Jacob Liberman, O.D., Ph.D.

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Is Your Phone Ruining Your Eyesight?

Posted: 09/26/11 09:55 AM ET

Co-authored by Erik Liberman

Have you ever noticed after looking at your PDA for a few minutes that your eyes feel blurry, or you feel disoriented, when looking up? Ever nearly bumped into someone while typing and walking down the street, or worse -- while texting and driving? It's interesting how our body's chief navigational system is unable to efficiently reorient itself after being forced to focus on a tiny, handheld screen.

Our eyes are designed to operate seamlessly at both near and far distances; from an anthropological perspective, to detect distant predators and nearby prey. Yet the educational, occupational, and now social demands of modern society have significantly diminished our ability to see "the forest for the trees." In fact, by constantly poring over our PDAs, keeping our eyes in an "over-focused," cramped position, we have unwittingly brought about a major increase in visual deterioration.

Consider this: More than 175 million people wear glasses or contact lenses in the United States alone, and it is estimated that more than 4 billion (or about 65 percent) of the world's population requires visual correction.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, computer-related eyestrain affects 90 percent of people who spend three or more hours a day at a computer, and most experts agree that the visual confinement created by spending time indoors, reading and working at computers, is a major contributor to the progression of myopia. Now imagine the further compression of our visual field when we spend leisure time -- while our eyes are meant to relax and take in "the bigger picture" -- texting, checking e-mails and playing games on our handheld devices.

What's The Solution?

If you strained your arm and the doctor said you'd have to wear a brace for the rest of your life, you'd probably seek a second opinion. If the dentist said your teeth would decay without flossing and brushing, you might make it a habit to take those steps. Yet most people with eyestrain resort to just wearing glasses or contacts in increasing prescription for the rest of their lives, without ever considering the alternative.

Just as physical training increases the body's speed, strength, and agility, exercising your eyes can do the same thing. And since the eyes are our body's chief navigational system, responsible for 90 percent of all learning, improving visual performance can affect everything we do -- from keeping our "eye on the ball" during sports and judging distances while driving, to tracking the fine print while reading and comprehending it more quickly.

These simple steps will allow your eyes to perform more comfortably while preserving your vision:

• Try not to look at your book, computer screen or PDA longer than a few minutes without looking up, taking a deep breath, and allowing a distant object to come into focus. This will relax your focusing system and increase visual comfort and performance.

• Stand up and take a short break from reading and computer work every 30 to 45 minutes. Shift your focus between a nearby and distant object while following your breath. This will help relieve eyestrain.

• Remove your glasses or contact lenses whenever you don't really need them. Experiment with this while you eat or talk on the phone. This will give your eyes a chance to relax.

If we are lucky, we are born with a healthy set of eyes, engineered through thousands of years of evolution to bring our awareness to whatever requires our attention next. In the same way we perform cardiovascular exercise for heart health, make vision training a part of your daily routine. You'll see the difference!


Dr. Jacob Liberman, O.D., Ph.D., ScD., is the author of "Light: Medicine of the Future, Take Off Your Glasses and See and Wisdom from an Empty Mind" with his son, Erik. He invented the EYEPORT Vision Training System, the only FDA-cleared medical device clinically proven to improve visual performance. www.exerciseyoureyes.com.

Erik Liberman is an award-winning actor and writer living in New York. www.erikliberman.org.