Understanding & Preventing

In today’s world, we are glued to our screens—every day, we work on computers, watch television, and browse the internet on our smartphones. Research shows all of this exposure can affect our eye health.

According to the American Optometric Association, the most frequent health complaints among computer workers are vision-related. Studies indicate that 50 to 90 percent of computer users suffer from symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome. Dr. Gary St. Clair, an optometrist at St. Clair Eye Care, talked to us about Computer Vision Syndrome and what he has observed.

Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is described by the American
Optometric Association as a group of eye and vision–related problems that result from prolonged computer use. “Computer Vision Syndrome occurs when people work close to their computer screens. Because of the distance we sit from our screen, which is too close, our eyes must do more work to see clearly,” explains St. Clair.

This strain on the eye can cause a plethora of symptoms, including eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck or shoulder pain. According to the American Optometric Association, those who spend two or more continuous hours at a computer are at a higher risk for developing CVS.

“There aren’t many people who don’t work on a computer for at least part of their day,” says St. Clair.

But it’s not just computers that are causing these symptoms. St. Clair says he and his staff see CVS “on an almost daily basis” now that smartphones and tablets have become more popular.

St. Clair says the individuals most at risk are not older Americans or Baby Boomers, but children in elementary and middle school. “Those children will face over 60 years of exposure to digital devices,” he says.

Be sure your child receives regular eye exams to catch any early signs of computer-related vision issues.

High Energy Visible Light
High energy visible light is closely related to Computer Vision Syndrome. The human eye can see only a very small portion of the light spectrum, which is referred to as the “visible spectrum.” Light waves that are longer than the visible spectrum are infrared waves, and those that are shorter are ultraviolet. Certain wavelengths close to the ultraviolet lengths, but still within the visible range, are considered high energy visible light and are emitted by most computer screens.

Research is still being conducted to determine the long-term effects of high energy visible light emission. However, it is known that blue light is one cause of CVS as well as sleep disruptions. These rays have also been found to cause retina damage and can cause serious, long-term complications, including a risk of developing premature cataracts and macular degeneration.

Prevention and Treatment
To reduce exposure to high energy visible light, consider getting computer glasses with a lens or filter that blocks blue light. Additionally, there are filters available for devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets, to reduce the amount of blue light radiation that can reach your eyes. The easiest way to reduce blue light exposure is to take frequent breaks when working on a computer and to reduce screen time overall.

If you suspect that you have computer-induced eye problems, the best thing you can do is to get a comprehensive eye exam. “If you haven’t been to the eye doctor in over a year, that is the best place to start,” says St. Clair.

Screen glare, an improper viewing distance, low lighting conditions and poor posture can also make the symptoms of CVS worse. If possible, make any corrections to your workspace that may help to alleviate these symptoms.

For those who have prescription lenses, make sure you are wearing the correct prescription. If you have been wearing the same glasses for several years, you may need an adjustment. Even if you are wearing the right prescription strength, your doctor may prescribe an anti-glare coating that can help to block the high energy visible light coming from your screens.

Some patients may have 20/20 vision, but still experience eye strain when working in front of a screen. For these patients, corrective anti-glare lenses can still be helpful.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is follow the 20/20/20 rule. While working on a computer, pause every 20 minutes to stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. By forcing your eyes to look at a faraway object, you can give them a break from working so hard to focus on your screen.