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Protecting Your Vision in the Digitally-Drowning 21st Century

06/05/2015 06:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Ancient humans depended upon their eyes for survival. Survival of the fittest resulted in eyes that were structured for spotting game or danger from a distance. We inherited these hunter-soldier eyes from our human ancestors. Pity the poor human of the 21st century. Both our work and recreation now depend upon seeing computer and hand-held device screens viewed from within arm's length. The same screens, on the job and at home, are now the source of stress on our visual systems' capabilities. Optometrists call this "digital eye strain" or "computer vision syndrome."

The technical evolution of the Digital Age and the capabilities of the human eye simply aren't in sync. Optometrists report a dramatic upswing in people experiencing visual stress such as eye strain, headaches and blurred vision. This digital visual stress can also be the root cause of neck or shoulder tension, back pain and excessive fatigue. These symptoms result in lowered visual efficiency as the day progresses. The result is lower productivity at work and a lower quality of life for both adults and children in today's Digital Age.

Extended screen time with its associated complex eye movements and focusing shifts, can result in near-point visual stress. Most of us work at jobs that used to allow more physical movement and the opportunity to look away from near work. Today, our jobs require tiring concentration and long periods looking at a computer screen. Although computer manufacturers have improved their products to meet these visual challenges, it's up to each user to take steps to protect her vision in the digitally-drowning 21st century.

Dr. Andrea Thau, Vice President of the American Optometric Association and Associate Clinical Professor at State University of New York College of Optometry, offers advice that you can begin to follow today to protect your vision, enhance your quality of life and improve your general health.

Tools for the Job
The visual care of those who use computers at their job (and who doesn't?) versus those who work with paper, requires more extensive and specialized visual testing. For those reporting digital eye stress, there are now stress-relieving prescription lenses. Explains Dr. Thau: "These lenses are not designed to correct a vision defect. These are tools for the job that address symptoms such as blurred vision and eye strain that result from visual behavior. Once addressed by stress-relieving prescriptions lenses, wearers experience considerable relief. In addition, you may avoid the onset of more permanent visual and eye conditions we find associated with computer-using patients."

The 20-20-20 Rule
"Give your eyes a break," counsels Dr. Thau. "The American Optometric Association recommends following the 20-20-20 Rule. Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away." Dr. Thau explains: "Ideally, you should look out a window or down a hallway. At a minimum, once an hour stand up and walk around. This will allow your eyes to shift from near-point to far-point visual tasks. These involve different demands on the eyes such as focusing and eye coordination."

Skip Digital Shopping for Your Vision Requirements
Part of being a member of the Digital Age is digital shopping. "It's convenient to shop online for many products, but prescription eyeglasses shouldn't be one of them," advises Dr. Thau. "A trained doctor should make sure eyeglasses are custom-prescribed and fitted for comfort and optimal function. Avoid apps that tout the ability to evaluate vision or the fit of eyeglasses. These may give inaccurate or misleading information. Talk to your optometrist about the way you use your eyes at work and any problems you may be experiencing."

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Photo Credit: Courtesy Dr. Andrea Thau & Associates

Don't Take Shortcuts with Your Vision
Yearly comprehensive eye exams are one of the most important, preventive ways to preserve eye and vision health. The American Optometric Association recommends a yearly eye examination to help protect your eyes from conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. "The key is early detection and treatment," counsels Dr. Thau.

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Photo Credit: www.visionat.com.au

Eating for Healthy Vision: It's Not Just Carrots
Most American women know they should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But what many of us may not know is that what we eat can affect our eye health and vision as we age. Contrary to popular belief, carrots are not at the top of the list of foods that are among the best for the eyes.

Eat food rich in anti-oxidants to help to improve the immune system and ensure eye health. These foods include spinach, kale, broccoli, and red peppers, both raw and cooked. Explain Dr. Thau: "Nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining the health of your eyes. Mom was right, you should eat your vegetables. A growing body of research points to the importance of key nutrients that can help protect vision against eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. "

Photo Credit: Gettyimages

As screen time continues to increase in the 21st century, consumers need to pay more attention to the effects of digital eye strain on eye and vision health. Enhance your vision, your job performance and your quality of life by adopting these simple suggestions. Put down the tablet, close the laptop and make an appointment to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination today.