A New Health Epidemic

Computers, Mobile Phones & Other Digital Devices Are Impacting Your Eyes

By Dr Susana Liou

In the old days, human beings devoted the majority of their time to working outdoors, farming vegetables and animals, working the fields. A huge portion of their daily life was spent underneath the sun, with their vision mainly focused on looking into the distance. This is how our eyes have evolved over millennia. In contrast, modern society spends much of its working life indoors, underneath artificial lighting, and looking at a computer, which in terms of vision is very close-up.

Our eyes were not designed to be looking at objects close-up for long periods of time. The muscle used for focusing on different distances, whether 10m away for driving, 4m for TV, 60cm for computers, or 40cm for reading, needs to adjust accordingly depending on the distance.

When we see far away in the distance (E.G. more than 6m away) the eye muscle is in a relaxed state. The closer you are looking at an object, the more focusing needs to occur, thus causing the eye muscle to contract. So, the longer you look at your computer screen for a prolonged period without looking away and changing the eyes’ position, the more strain you put on the eyes.

What does this tell us? The natural design of our eyes has not evolved to have us working close-up for the majority of the time. Some people these days spend up to 8 hours or more each day with their eyes locked in a fixed position towards their computer screen. The epidemic of sore and tired eyes caused by the use of digital devices has begun!

We at Visual Q Eyecare have begun to see an increased frequency of young people suffering from eyestrain due to prolonged near use. They tend to be between 25 and 38 years old, and upon visiting our optometry clinic comment that while they can still sit at the computer, it’s not as comfortable as it once was. They complain of sore or tired eyes, yet their vision might not be blurry. However, if the symptoms continue untreated, we often hear about a sudden onset of blurred vision.

People who use computers or other digital devices at a near or intermediate distance for extended period of times should have their eyes checked if they suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned above. Discomfort when reading is also a common issue. When booking for your eye test, choose an optometrist who takes an interest in binocular vision problems, as they are often quite knowledgeable about issues with eye muscles. Once diagnosed the problem can be solved by wearing special vocational multi-focal lenses while you work. These look like normal glasses on the outside, but have added strength to help sustained near work.

We often hear people say, ‘Everything is fine with my vision, except when I use a computer my eyes feel tired.’ Our general advice is to take regular breaks from looking at the computer screen. For every 30 minutes of close-up work, take 1 minute to look at something at least 6m away from you. This will relax the eyes’ muscles. You may find it hard to comprehend, but we believe a 1-minute break after every half hour of near work is more beneficial for your eyes than a 30-minute break after 3 constant hours of working close-up. Think about it. 6 minutes of break time over a 3-hour period (1 minute per half hour equals 2 minutes per hour) is better for your eyes than a 30-minute break at the end of 3 hours straight work. It takes conscious determination and discipline, but it could save your eyes from becoming another victim of the modern digital device epidemic!

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