Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, is a collection of eye and vision problems associated with excess artificial light from computers, tablets, cell phones, and televisions. Digital eye strain is characterized by eye pain, eye fatigue/tiredness, headaches/migraines, eye dryness, eye irritation, “pulling sensations," neck/back pain, and blurred vision. Blue Blocking glasses help reduce the symptoms of digital eye strain.
The Problem: Digital Eye Strain from Artificial Light
Digital eye strain was first realized with the use of LCD screens in personal computers in the 1980s and gradually became increasingly prevalent with LED screen technology in the 1990s. By the 2010s people were becoming regularly accustomed to artificial light from not only computers, but tablets, smartphones, and smartwatches as well. Simultaneously, incandescent light bulbs, which emit primarily yellow light, were phased out and replaced with fluorescent light bulbs which primarily emit blue light. Unfortunately, although modern-day light bulbs and light sources are often energy efficient, they are not health conscious.
The cornea and lens of the eye transmits virtually all blue light despite blocking 99% of UV light. Although blue light readily reaches the retina it is not believed to cause retinal damage or macular degeneration, it does have the ability to alter sleep, alertness, mood, headaches/migraines, and eye comfort. This increased exposure to artificial light, especially blue light, in the addition to increased usage of devices at close viewing distances has led to a surge of people experiencing symptoms of headaches, fatigue, eye soreness, eye irritation, and blurry vision. Furthermore, constant exposure to blue light from screens may contribute to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and sleep related disorders.
Increasing Digital Eye Strain Among Children
Until recently, children were fairly insulated from digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome. However, children are now playing with iPads, tablets, phones, and computer games more than ever. Even worse, COVID-19 has resulted in kids spending countless hours staring at computer screens at home rather than blackboards at school. For the first time, parents and optometrists are now noticing young children experiencing digital eye fatigue symptoms that, until recently, were almost exclusively only experienced by teenagers and adults.
Digital eye strain occurs when the visual demands of using a smart-device exceed the comfortable visual ability of a person’s ocular system. The eyes are forced to work harder when viewing a digital screen up close than a non-digital device far away. The blue light from digital devices also scatters more easily than other colors on the visible spectrum. This unfocused light scattering, sometimes referred to as “visual noise” reduces contrast, demands more focusing, and contributes to digital eye strain.
While a child may be able to look at a computer screen for up to an hour comfortably, two or more hours may cause significant eye fatigue and discomfort. Many pediatricians recommend an hour of outdoor play for every hour of screen time, however, this is becoming very difficult for parents to regulate due to school and homework assignments being regularly being completed using digital devices. While screens previously were primarily associated with free time (computer games, video games, TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, etc), screens are now being used for both school and free time.
The Solution: Blue Blocking Glasses
Blue light blocking glasses are helpful for reducing blue light exposure from digital devices without negatively affecting the visual quality of the screen. These glasses have a special filter embedded within the lens which absorbs blue light, therefore not letting blue light travel through the lens. This lens technology may reduce symptoms of digital eye strain, improve focus/attention, increase contrast sensitivity and clarity, and may even improve sleep if worn during the hours leading up to bedtime.
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Written by Kaleb Abbott, O.D., M.S.