Are Your Screens Straining Your Eyes?

When I was a little kid in Sunday school, we'd sing a song about being mindful of what we looked at.

It went like this. "Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little eyes what you see."

The following verses warned us about what little ears should hear, what little tongues should say and what little hands should do. As well as where little feet should go, whom little hearts should trust and what little minds should think. 

The song pretty much covered the whole gambit of potential missteps kids could take.

Impossible to Avoid 

Well, our little eyes grew during childhood and teenage years. (Fortunately, they stopped growing at that point.) But the issue of what to look at and what not to look at is still valid.

Looking at blue light screens is nearly impossible to avoid. We gather a huge percentage of our information from screens these days. And we also use them to communicate.

From our cellphones and tablets, to our laptops and desktops. For our TVs to other electronic devices. It seems like we're always staring at one screen or another.

We're learning more about potential downsides of too much screen time. At the very least, it can cause eyestrain. Some medical personnel warn of greater dangers. 

DES Affects 60% of Americans

According to a recent survey, 80% of Americans say they use digital devices for more than two hours per day. Nearly 67% use two or more devices at the same time.

Many people spend the better part of the day looking at a screen. Due to their schoolwork, jobs, news gathering and entertainment. Some claim that blue light might be as damaging as ultraviolet light.

A set of symptoms known as digital eyestrain (DES) affects nearly 60% of Americans, according to the survey.

But is this blue light emitting from devices harmful to eye tissue? The jury is still out. We do know that blue light has a short wavelength. And that it produces a high amount of energy.

Is the Retina in Danger? 

As with other potential health risks, scientists have used laboratory animals in their research. 

What they've found suggests excessive blue light exposure could damage some sensitive cells in the retina. That's the layer of nerve cells behind the eyeball. The excessive exposure was shown to result in eyestrain and focusing problems.  

So far though, no research has conclusively shown that blue light causes long-term harm, eye disease or retina damage. That's according to UAB Medicine News from the medical center at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

But just because there is no conclusive medical proof yet doesn't mean experts are unconcerned about the potential for problems caused by blue light exposure.

Blue Light Has Some Seeing Red

Dr. Scott Edmonds is the chief eye care officer for United Healthcare Vision. He's very concerned about blue light exposure. Here's what he says

"Recent research shows that a specific part of the blue spectrum is also toxic, particularly to the retina.

"So we're concerned (that) with all this extra exposure, we're going to see long-term problems from the blue light." 

"There are also short-term problems with something we call digital eyestrain."

Blue Blockers Might Be Helping

You may already be wearing something designed specifically for this problem.  

Many eyeglasses are now called "blue blockers." Their special eyeglass lenses filter out blue light in the same way that UV lenses block ultraviolet light.

Makers of these glasses claim they can prevent retina damage. Hopefully they are correct. 

Again, though, there is no solid evidence yet that blue blockers preserve retina health or improve vision.

Less Blinking = Dry Eyes

Even if no specific link is ever found between blue light exposure and retina damage, there is evidence it causes eyestrain.

This problem can result in dry eyes. It also puts a burden on muscles that help eyes focus.

They've also discovered through observation that our eyes do not blink as often when we're looking at digital devices.

And that's an issue because the film of tears that protects the surface of the eye will evaporate faster with less blinking. Minor eye irritations are the result.

This Is Your Brain on Blue Light

Another factor in too much blue light affecting your eyes is when you look at screens.

Screen time within the last couple hours of when you go to bed can upset your circadian rhythm. It signals your brain to wake up when it should be powering down.

One study showed that two hours of blue light exposure at night slowed or stopped release of the sleep hormone melatonin.

When we don't get enough sleep, eye twitches or spasms can result. You may also be more sensitive to light or have blurry vision.   

Tips for Screen Watchers

So, how do we avoid eyestrain (and perhaps other eye problems) if we spend a significant amount of time looking at our various screens? Here's what some vision care experts recommend: 

  •           Obey the 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes of usage, look away for 20 seconds and focus on something 20 feet away.
  •           Use artificial tears or lubricant drops to relieve dryness symptoms.
  •           Reduce overhead lighting to minimize screen glare.
  •           Keep your eyes an arm's distance away from screens.
  •           Increase text size on devices to see screen content more easily.
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