COVID-19 brings with it an unprecedented inundation of screentime as the technological savviness across all age-groups has exploded with new utilization of Zoom, Microsoft teams, telemedicine platforms and many other avenues of remote learning and working rituals.
Approximately 40% of adults and 80% of teenagers experience significant visual symptoms from electronic displays known as Computer Vision Syndrome. More commonly referred to as digital eyestrain, it encompasses a cluster of symptoms including eye strain, dryness, and blurred or double vision. The pathophysiology can be broken down into three facets: extraocular, accommodative and ocular surface.
Extraocular contribution involves musculoskeletal soreness and is typically exacerbated with poor placement of the digital screen. This leads to neck stiffness, headache, backacke and shoulder pain. Accommodation is the eye's method of increasing and decreasing focus within the eye in conjunction with convergence and divergence. This is heavily reliant on an adequate binocularity system, meaning that the eyes need to work together properly to have a clear, single image for prolonged viewing. Extended periods of nearwork make visual tasks difficult, leading to blurring of vision and even diplopia. Ocular surface issues result in dry eye syndrome. This can be due to the position of the eyelids (completely open compared to when reading a book in downward gaze), a decrease in blinking, and other environmental conditions including air conditioning or small quarters.
Four things you can do to lessen Computer Vision Syndrome:
Take breaks: “20-20-20" Rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. It is important to give your eyes a break!
Not-so-close! Viewing distance matters! Sit at least a full arms-length away from your screen and try to have the text at or below eye-level. The relationship between increased nearwork with development and progression of myopia, or nearsightedness, has been widely studied and is particularly concerning for school-aged children. Every effort should be made to enable children time away from their screens and time outdoors. Myopia is associated with serious ocular diseases when not controlled and there are ways to slow its progression to a manageable degree.
Limit screen time before bedtime: Try to limit the amount of exposure to blue light 2-3 hours before bedtime. Exposure to blue light from electronic devices can disrupt the body's circadian rhythm making falling asleep more difficult since the light acts as a stimulant
BLINK! We tend to decrease our blink rate when looking at the computer. If your eyes feel dry, try to keep some artificial tears nearby.
If you are experiecing any symptoms, feel free to reach out to us at (212) 305-9535 to make an appointment. Our specialists can help ensure that you have an accurate nearwork prescription and assess your computer vision syndrome.
Dr. Kresch is Instructor in Optometric Sciences (in Ophthalmology) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is a primary care optometrist who specializes in the non-surgical treatment and management of myopia and glaucoma.