Digital devices have become a part of daily life for most people. As much as 95% of Americans spend two or more hours a day using digital devices and 30%–nearly one third–of American adults spend nine or more hours using them. All that screen staring has lead to the growing health issue of digital eye strain–the physical discomfort felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen be it a computer, tablet, smartphone, e-reader, TV, or video game. Read on to learn the answers to your questions about this modern health problem:

What are the most common symptoms?

There are other discomforts associated with digital eye strain other than just eye strain. Headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain are also often experienced with this condition.

Why do digital devices cause eye strain?

There are multiple culprits that lead to digital eye strain. We typically blink on average about 18 times per minute, but when staring at a screen for a significant amount of time, we blink much less. This causes dry, itchy or burning eyes. Posture and the ergonomics of one’s workspace are contributing factors. Emerging research is also pointing the finger at blue light, a portion of the light spectrum between UV and visible light that can cause damage to retinal cells and lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts with cumulative and constant exposure.

Who is most at risk?

If you have a computer-oriented job, you are among the most likely to experience digital eye strain. A 2014 study found that office workers who work on a computer most of the time and experience eye strain undergo changes in their tear fluid similar to people with dry eye disease. Your age is also an indicator of whether you’re more at risk for digital eye strain. Unlike most eye issues, it’s the young who are suffering the most. A large majority, nearly 70 percent, of Millennials report symptoms of digital eye strain. That’s more than Baby Boomers (57%) and Gen Xers (63 percent).

What can be done to prevent it?

The easiest way to avoid digital eye strain is to take a break from the devices for a while. We are so in the habit of bringing them everywhere and using them whenever we are need a distraction. However, making a conscious effort to do something else will help your eyes and perhaps help with symptoms of digital addiction at the same time. When you do need to use a digital device, here are some tips to reduce your risk:

  • Take a 20-20-20 break–every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds
  • Use computer eyewear–they reduce refection and glare and/or filter out harmful blue light
  • Blink more often–it can be hard to remember when focused on work, but if you can remind yourself to blink, it will help with dry eye symptoms
  • Set up your work station ergonomically–this involves creating a comfortable viewing distance 20-28 inches from your eyes, adjusting the screen to be slightly below eye level, lessening the amount of overhead and surrounding light, and adjusting the brightness of the device.

Digital devices are in many ways a positive part of our lives now¬–they connect us with friends, let us capture and share moments, keep us close to those far away–but they unfortunately come with some risk to our eyes and overall health. However, with a few small adjustments to our habits and working space we can ensure lifelong vision health.

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