Technology impacts and shapes our lives in countless ways. Our technologies surely bestow benefits, but our relationship to technology is often fraught with imbalance. In particular, our vision suffers from the hours we gaze at two dimensional screens.
The good news is that, as part of the brain, our eyes share in our brain’s innate adaptability. The not so great news is that modern demands on vision, especially our constant focus on close-up screens, is causing our eyes to make unhealthy adaptations. But there’s more good news—you can do something about that! Here’s how…
For millennia, humans spent most of their time focused on distance—such as scouting the horizon for dangerous predators, weather, food and shelter. Today, we spend our days primarily staring at objects only 18 inches (or less!) from our eyes—smartphones, tablets, iPads, e-books and the like. Constantly focusing on near objects and not looking off into the distance is the main cause of myopia (nearsightedness). And while wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses may seem like an easy solution, nearsightedness is about more than blurry distance vision.
Before the age of technology, nearsightedness was found primarily among professions that required a lot of reading, such as accountants, lawyers and college professors, and hardly ever found among, for instance, farmers. Now nearsightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. For example, in China and Japan up to 90% of students age 12 and older are nearsighted…while in parts of Africa and among other cultures that don’t spend extended periods of time doing close work far people are nearsighted. Estimates predict that by the year 2050 half of people worldwide will be nearsighted.
Computer eye strain is the #1 eyestrain complaint in the U.S.
CVS (computer vision syndrome), more commonly known as computer eye strain is a combination of vision problems noticed during and after working long hours on the computer. OSHA describes it as a repetitive strain disorder affecting 90% of U.S. workers on computers daily.
Computers are becoming ubiquitous – they are everywhere and in many forms – all requiring close focused vision.
In the case of students on computers and computer professionals, the light emitted by computers is another serious source of light that can damage the retina and cause macular degeneration.1, 2
Consequences of Computer Eyestrain
Computer eyestrain is a contributing cause to a host of eye conditions including glaucoma, dry eye, advanced macular degeneration, damage to rods and cones, damage to the retinal pigmented layer of macula, and eye cancer.
In one study with university students regarding computer use and eye problems, many exhibited eye issues including the following: headache (53.3%), burning sensation in the eyes (54.8%) and tired eyes (48%). While studies on the effects of computer eyestrain are not yet prevalent, taking a look at data related to repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) can help put this problem into perspective.
- Eyestrain and fatigue
- Blurred or fuzzy vision
- Dizziness, upset stomach
- Difficulty focusing on work
- Headaches and migraine headaches
- Dry, red, or irritated eyes
- Increased myopia (nearsightedness)
- Color vision changes
- Slow ability to refocus
- Excessive tiredness
- Neck strain, shoulder, and upper and lower back pain
- Occasional double vision, or eye-coordination problems
The pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin; this is the body’s biochemical signal of biological darkness, in other words, the signal that you are ready for sleep. Blue light suppresses production of melatonin15 to a surprisingly profound degree.16 If you are exposed to blue light right before bedtime (e.g. checking your email one more time), it throws off the internal rhythm that allows you to get adequate sleep. Nearly 75% of children now use some sort of electronic device in their bedroom. The use of these devices markedly impacts sleep quality, which in turn, contributes to social adjustment problems, behavioral problems in school and at home, and surprisingly, weight gain.
While most research on the effects of smartphones on sleep and circadian rhythms have involved children and teens, adults are also adversely impacted. One Flemish study included more than 800 adults, 50% of whom owned smartphones, and 60% of whom used their smartphone during the night. Nighttime phone use and texting at night markedly increased how long it took to fall asleep and markedly decreased the quality, duration, and efficiency of sleep.
- In younger adults, nighttime electronic-device use was tied to more fatigue and later rising time.
- In older adults, it was associated with shorter sleep duration and earlier rise time.
- Limit cell phone use to under 2 hours per day. Prolonged daily exposure to smart mobile devices (more than 2 hours per day) is a significant risk factor for inducing multiple types of ocular discomfort.
- Take regular breaks from mobile device and computer use to relax the eyes
- Eat a healthy diet including lots of green, leafy vegetables. Avoid excess sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fatty acids (such as in many chips and marjorine) and fried food.
- Get outside and exercise such as walking, jogging, hiking.
- Wear blue blocking glasses when on the computer and using mobile devices to filter out blue light.
- Complementary Approach
- Certain nutrients help filter out light in the eyes and act as powerful antioxidants to help protect the eyes from damage from digital devices .
- Lutein 10 mg and Zeaxanthin 2 mg per day . These are two similarly structured carotenoids that make up the macular pigment in the retina and help protect against damaging blue (visible) and UV light
- Vitamin C (buffered). 2,000mg–3,000mg per day As an antioxidant, vitamin C scavenges free radicals in the body and protects tissues from oxidative stress.
- Astaxanthin. 6mg per day . Shown to be effective in protecting against damage from light due to its antioxidant effect.
Good computer habits:
- Breaks are important! Short, frequent breaks are better than longer, less frequent time away from the screen. Try to take breaks 2-3 minutes every 15-20 minutes, 5 minutes every 30 minutes, or 10 minutes every hour.
- Eye exercises and massage or acupressure points, done every hour that you spend on your computer, are very relaxing and helpful
- Set up your computer correctly and use a good monitor.
- Use proper posture. Tucked in chin, slightly curve your neck rather than leaning forward, have your upper back fairly straight with only a slight roundedness, and hollow your low back — but don’t strain.
- Avoid overhead lights, preference: a desk lamp.
- Control glare lights and windows.
- Keep your wrists fairly straight to lessen the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome. Use a wrist support pad if that helps.
- Cubicle inhabitant? Give it some “expansiveness” by putting a mirror on one of the walls. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.
In summary, to be able to survive and thrive in our ever increasing technological world . Integrate a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, daily meditations or walks in nature and a healthy diet. The rapid pace of our lives often interferes with us taking the time to really take care of ourselves. Caring for ourselves helps to keep our bodies and eyes healthy, and maximizes the mind/body’s inherent healing potential.
Marc Grossman, Doctor of Optometry and New York State Licensed Acupuncturist is author of several books, including Natural Eye Care – Your Guide to Healthy Vision. Since 1980 Dr. Marc Grossman has helped many people maintain healthy vision and even improve eyesight. He is best described as a Holistic Eye Doctor, dedicated to helping people with such conditions ranging from myopia and dry eyes to potentially vision threatening diseases as macular degeneration and glaucoma. His combined multi-disciplinary approach using nutrition, eye exercises, lifestyle changes and Chinese Medicine provides him with a wide array of tools and approaches to tackle difficult eye problems. Dr. Grossman founded the Rye Learning Center in 1980, a multidisciplinary center for learning problems, in 1996 co-founded Integral Health Associates in New Paltz, New York, and in 1999 co-founded Natural Eye Care, Inc. For more information go to www.naturaleyecare.com or call 845-255-3728.