In today’s digital world, many of us have experienced eyestrain of one form or another. Staring at your computer screen, smartphone, or any digital device for long periods can cause your eyes to feel dry and tired. As a result, one can develop blurry vision, eye fatigue, and strain. Fortunately, this should not cause permanent eye damage, but it sure can be a nuisance to our everyday life.
So, why does this eye strain happen? A typical person will blink about once every 3-4 seconds. This is important because each blink will resurface the eye with moisture. Studies have shown us that the blink rate can decrease in half when visually attentive tasks including computers, digital devices, video games, and reading are performed. Don’t even get me started on the blink rate on children playing video games. I once observed my oldest son not blink for 90 seconds while playing Call of Duty. The take-home point is this: As your blink rate goes down, the ocular surface will dry faster, thus causing eye dryness/strain.
Another common question that I get asked pertains to the harmful effects of blue light from digital devices and blue-blocking lenses. By far, most of the blue light that we encounter comes from sunlight, not our computer/ smart phone screens. As a result of this, I do not typically recommend blue-blocking lenses for digital eyestrain, but counsel people more on the things I discussed above.
However, I do feel that blue-blocking lenses can be helpful at night. There is good evidence supporting that blue light from digital screens can interfere with our sleep patterns (circadian rhythm). In general, our bodies associate blue light with daytime. When we spend time in front of our digital devices and their associated blue light emissions at night, melatonin production can decrease. When this happens, it can take longer to fall asleep and make it more difficult to wake up after sleep. Ideally, we recommend no blue light exposure 3-4 hours before bedtime. For many people this is not realistic, therefore I do believe blue-blocking lenses have a role in this setting, especially in people that report difficulty sleeping.
Here are some tips to reduce eye strain:
- Give your eyes a break. Use the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Reduce screen glare with a matte screen filter.
- Sit about arm’s length from your computer and position the screen so that your gaze is slightly downward.
- Lubricate your eyes with an artificial tear if they feel dry.
- Be careful of too much glare from other lighting in the room.
- Do not have the screen of your device significantly brighter than your surroundings.
- Sharpen the contrast on your screen.
Special considerations for contact lens users:
- When your contacts are bothering you, take a break from them and wear your glasses.
- Never sleep in your contacts. Yes, even the “extended wear” contacts.
- Clean your contacts appropriately. If you find this to be a burden, switch to daily disposable contacts.
Amber lenses do a fantastic job of blocking blue light and cutting down glare especially during daytime and overcast days. However, caution should be employed when using these glasses for night driving because any amount of tint in glasses will decrease the amount of light entering your eyes. In general, this is not optimal for night driving. Things that can help in night driving are:
• Keeping your windshield clean on the inside and outside.
• Making sure your windshield wipers are in good condition.
• Cleaning road grime off of your headlights.
• Wearing your most current prescription for glasses with an anti-reflective coating. (This is also good for decreasing digital eye strain.)
I hope that this brief overview helps your understanding of digital eyestrain and blue-blocking lenses. If you try these tips, I feel that you should get some relief from this condition. However, if your eyes continuously feel red, blurry, strained, or sensitive to light, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your eye doctor. We have several other treatment options that we can explore for you.