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Eye Health in the Digital Age: Does Too Much Screen Time Hurt Your Vision?

Eye Strain

You may have seen news stories about possible vision damage from the blue light emitted by computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, and other electronic devices. Too much screen time is a common pitfall in this digital age, and it can cause eyestrain in some people. But the chances of permanent vision damage are low.

About 80% of American adults say they use digital devices for more than two hours per day, and nearly 67% use two or more devices at the same time. This level of exposure to digital technology for work, school, entertainment, and everyday activities has created a set of symptoms known as digital eyestrain (DES). Nearly 60% of Americans experience some symptoms of DES.

This has led to health concerns about the potential for blue light to harm eye tissue. Because blue light has a short wavelength, it produces a high amount of energy. Dozens of studies have investigated whether exposure to blue light over time could cause serious, long-term eye damage.

Research Results

Early laboratory research using animal models suggested that excessive blue light exposure could damage some sensitive cells in the retina, the layer of nerve cells behind the eyeball. It can lead to eyestrain and focusing problems, but no research has conclusively shown that blue light causes long-term harm, eye disease, or retina damage.

Despite this lack of proof, many news sources, health- and vision-related websites, and health organizations suggest a causal link between blue light exposure and retina damage. This has led to an interest in “blue blockers,” which are special eyeglass lenses that filter out blue light in the same way UV lenses block ultraviolet light.

Manufacturers of these lenses often make bold claims about using blue blockers to prevent retina damage, sometimes quoting studies that examined the effect of blue light on cellular eye tissue. However, a National Institutes of Health analysis of blue blockers research found no solid evidence that these lenses improve vision or preserve retina health.

Moderation Matters

Still, too much time with digital devices can cause problems. Digital eyestrain often leads to dry eyes and puts an extra burden on the muscles that help the eye focus. Also, the eyes do not blink as frequently when looking at digital devices, which causes faster disruption and evaporation of the film of tears that protects the surface of the eye. That can cause minor eye irritations such as burning and stinging.

Vision care experts recommend these guidelines to help avoid digital eyestrain and maintain more comfortable vision while using digital devices:

  • Take frequent breaks while using digital devices. Use 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 symptoms of dryness.
  • Reduce overhead lighting to minimize screen glare.
  • Keep your eyes an arm's distance away from the screen.
  • Increase the text size on devices to see screen content more easily.

Click here to schedule an appointment at UAB Callahan Eye Hospital and learn more about preventing digital eyestrain.