THE BLOG
01/25/2016 02:59 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

Digital Eye Strain

diego_cervo via Getty Images

IT'S NOT YOUR IMAGINATION....all of that screen time IS affecting your eyes.

I see it daily in my office - complaints of headaches, irritated eyes, and blurry vision that will come and go - all signs you may be spending too much time viewing a screen.

We are clearly seeing an epidemic of dry eye - a modern day epidemic caused by people staring at screens for hours a day. Whether it's your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, certain changes happen in our eyes after constantly focusing on those screens!

Millennials are affected because they tend to multi-screen; middle age people are affected because they are starting to face hormone changes and eye changes, which affect tear production and focusing ability; even children are facing issues from all that screen time.

• Screen time is now a big cause of DRY EYE, a condition that is on the rise. At least 25 million Americans suffer from it.

• Clear vision and comfortable eyes needs a HEALTHY TEAR FILM first and foremost - our tear film is maintained by BLINKING!

• A person's normal blink rate is 10-20 times per minute. This serves to redistribute our tears over the eye's surface, aiding in clear vision and comfort.

• When we are looking at a screen, average blink rate DROPS TO 3-4 times per minute! This means longer breaks between blinks for our tear film to dry up.

This leads to blurry vision, "pins and needles" feeling and irritation in your eyes, headaches, light sensitivity and even wrinkles from squinting!

• Digital screens emit blue light, which is still being studied for its possible damaging effects on cells deep within our eyes.

It's possible that blue light effects accumulate over time; so the prevalence of young children viewing screens is even more so a problem, even though they may not complain of digital eye strain symptoms.

BUT WE NEED OUR DEVICES, SO WHAT TO DO??

• "20-20-20 Rule" - for every 20 minutes of screen time, stare at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This exercise relaxes the muscles that focus at near and helps the eye to "reset." You can then return to your screen viewing.

Artificial tears! Natural lubricant drops with no medication in them! Keep a bottle next to your computer and use throughout the day - soothing and safe! You don't need a prescription and you can use them as often as you like.

• There are many great brands of artificial years out there, but the eye care aisle can get confusing. Just avoid drops that say "get the red out" or "for itchy eyes" - these have medications in them and could even worsen your condition.

Remember to blink! Sounds silly, but it works - be more conscious of it while on screens and see the difference!

• Give your peepers a rest! I know electronic readers are convenient, but I recommend reading a real book now and then if you spend time all day on screens. Pick up a newspaper or magazine now and then instead of going to the website.

• If these steps aren't working and you find yourself using tears several times a day with no relief, don't suffer! See your ophthalmologist! There are other options for dry eye as well as tests your ophthalmologist can perform. Many cases of dry eye can be related to chronic conditions such as autoimmune diseases and are exacerbated by screen time.

A word for anyone older than Millennials:

Another factor may affecting your eye symptoms by the end of the day:
When we focus at near, we are using a muscle in our eyes that accommodates to give you a clear image. But once we hit our 40's and 50's this muscle tends to lose elasticity with each year that goes by (sounds familiar huh?). For some, it's not just screen time hurting our eyes but the lack of proper reading glasses while on the screen.

If you're over 40, you probably need some sort of reading magnification to relax the muscles in your eye or else you are definitely focusing too much with the muscle reserve you do have left. This is where reading glasses help, or else you risk feeling more eyestrain that your millennial counterparts would. No matter how much you want to keep increasing that font size, heed these words!

Please remember that it's a MYTH that wearing reading glasses increases your dependence on them. I see patients all the time with eye complaints that go away once I convince them that wearing their readers won't make them older and will make their eyes HAPPIER!

Some of the steps above will work for some and not for others. There isn't an easy fix as each individual is different. The 20-20-20 rule is key in my opinion. Still, many patients need to go on medication for dry eye, such as Restasis; some will need minor surgical procedures such as tear duct plugging.

The bottom line is that we are seeing more and more patients complaining of eye issues related to digital screens. Our eyes did not evolve to be focusing on screens all day, yet our society has. We are going to have to try our best to limit our screen time and adjust to how we feel! Now that we've recognized the issue of digital eyestrain, let's do something about it.


.....written on my laptop while simultaneously checking my Ipad notes, texting the babysitter and watching CNN on my TV ☺