The average adult now spends a significant chunk of the day looking at screens, whether on a computer, smartphone, tablet or TV, but this can have consequences for our health and eyes.
The extended use of digital devices at work as well as at home has led to a substantial rise in complaints of eye strain, say doctors.
According to the American Optometric Association, headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain are some of the common symptoms of digital eye strain (DES), also referred to as computer vision syndrome (CVS).
How does screen time affect our eyes?
“When we read or do some work using the screens, our blink rate spontaneously reduces to less than half,” says Dr Aneez Shaikh, Specialist Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital.
The use of handheld devices puts extra strain on the eyes causing eye fatigue, eye pain and even headache.
– Dr Aneez Shaikh, Specialist Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital
“Normally we blink about 20 to 22 times a minute but while using screens it reduces to less than ten. This increases the evaporation of tears, causing dry eyes. This, in turn, leads to irritation, redness and discomfort in our eyes,” explains Dr Shaikh.
“The use of handheld devices puts extra strain on the eyes causing eye fatigue, eye pain and even headache.”
DES symptoms can be divided into external and internal symptoms.
“While the external symptoms are related to dry eyes, the internal symptoms are related to refractive correction, accommodation — the ability of the eye to focus on near tasks, or vergence — the ability of the eye to look in opposite directions to obtain or maintain single binocular vision,” explains Dr Omar Rafiq, Consultant, Ophthalmology, Al Zahra Hospital Sharjah.
Many reports have also highlighted that the emission of blue light from devices harm our eye heath. When asked to explain the connection between the blue light and eye strain, Dr Rafiq says, “Blue light is known to disrupt sleep patterns. Melatonin hormone is released in dim light conditions and helps us to fall asleep. But, blue light is known to disrupt the pathway that releases melatonin. Exposure to blue light, including from the digital devices, before bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns.”
While some concern has been expressed regarding the blue light emitted from digital screens, recent research indicated that the low levels of blue light from such devices do not represent a biohazard, even for long-term viewing.
– Dr Omar Rafiq, Consultant, Ophthalmology, Al Zahra Hospital Sharjah
However, he adds, “While some concern has been expressed regarding the blue light emitted from digital screens, recent research indicated that the low levels of blue light from such devices do not represent a biohazard, even for long-term viewing.”
Diagnosis and treatment
A thorough eye check-up under a slit lamp is essential to know the extent of damage and the amount of dryness of the eyes.
“We have to also look for underlying inflammation due to the long standing dry eyes,” says Dr Shaikh. “We also look at the texture of the cornea and other surface abnormalities to assess the severity of the condition and then decide on the treatment.
“Depending on the case, most of the patients would need lubricating eye drops and anti-inflammatory eye drops to treat the condition.”
Are there any chances of sustaining long-term damage from prolonged screen use?
“It can cause lasting damages, especially if we do not take adequate rest pauses and do not keep us hydrated,” says Dr Shaikh.
“A lot of people suffer from chronic dry eyes and ocular surface disorders due to prolonged use of screens and this, in turn, can cause recurrent sties and chalazions and some people experience chronic red eyes.”