Treating the digital eye

Digital devices—now more than ever—are becoming an integral part of our daily lives. “Near work” is the norm in classrooms, increasingly, but chances are patients of all ages are guilty of spending too much time in front of screens outside of class, too. Today is National Day of Unplugging—and unplugging is just one of many ways you can help patients ease the effects of digital eyestrain.

If you’re seeing the effects in your practice, you’re not alone. Nicholas Feipel, O.D., who practices in Indiana, notes that digital eyestrain affects approximately 90 percent of people who spend three or more hours per day with a digital device, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. And because the average U.S. worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home, this year AOA’s Save Your Vision Month campaign is encouraging both employees and employers to make eye health a priority.

The condition isn’t just affecting adults. “Eighty-three percent of children report using an electronic device more than three hours daily, while only 40 percent of parents think their kids exceed that mark,” says Dr. Feipel, citing the AOA’s American Eye-Q® survey results.

The trouble is that digital eyestrain may come with headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck pain and double vision, among other symptoms. Sarah Hinkley, O.D., professor at the Ferris State University of Michigan College of Optometry, adds, “Symptoms may also include double vision and lack of the eyes working as a team. Underlying issues with binocular vision, accommodation, dryness or others may be enhanced or become symptomatic after computer use.”

Tips for treating the digital eye
Beyond sharing messages of reducing screen use, how should doctors of optometry treat patients who report these symptoms? Keeping up with lens technology is a start.

“Glasses that relieve accommodative strain and encourage appropriate head posture, reduce glare and protect the eyes from blue light are a good treatment strategy. Such options may include single-vision or computer or occupational progressive addition lenses,” Dr. Hinkley says.

Dr. Feipel adds that though blue light is nothing new, it has become more of a concern with increasing device use.

“Most of the major advances in combatting blue light are anti-reflective lens treatments. These lenses reduce the amount of blue light entering the eye as well as reducing glare.” Dr. Feipel says. But he cautions against tinted lenses that completely block blue light from the eye, noting that the eyes actually still need blue light, both physiologically and for color perception.

Newer lens technology is designed to block only a portion of blue light. “These lenses are a practical option because the lenses remain clear and offer some of the best blue light protection available while reducing glare,” he says.

Other suggestions center around behavior modification. Tell patients to try to increase the font size on the device if needed, match the screen’s luminosity to the room’s luminosity, adjust the monitor height on a computer so it is slightly below eye level, eliminate glare from nearby windows and frequently blink.

“When we look at a screen, our blink rate drops significantly. Blinking helps to lubricate the eyes, which keeps them comfortable and allows for clear vision,” says Dr. Feipel. Sometimes it’s a matter of consciously forcing yourself to fully open and close the eye—something patients are actually less likely to do when they are engrossed in digital work.

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