Stopping Digital Eye Strain in its Tracks
Updated: Aug 8
It’s undeniable—time staring at a screen is hard on eyes. A few preventative steps can stop eye fatigue in its tracks. Staring at a fixed point for long periods causes eye strain. There is nothing damaging about the “digital-ness” of screens. Paperbacks and handwritten notes can cause the same discomfort.
Others point to the dangers of blue light emitted by electronic devices. These worries are unjustified. Blue light disrupts sleep cycles—a separate issue—but doesn’t damage retinas or corneas. As surgeon Dr. Yanoga puts it:
“Is it a health crisis? No—a lot of it is speculation and theory, although we do know that it [blue light] can affect circadian rhythm and the development of melatonin in our bodies.”
"Digital" Eye Strain isn't Unique
Digital eye strain is not distinct from other forms of eye strain. There are two causes:
Decreased blinking while fixating on the screen
Staring at the same point for hours stresses muscles around the eyes
The result? Dry, irritated, bleary eyes sometimes accompanied by headache. A book, notebook, TV or laptop can all create eye strain.
Isn't Blue Light the Concern?
In 2016, Apple introduced “Night Shift” to their iPhones and iPads. MacBooks followed one year later. The program claims to reduce blue light during the nighttime hours. Blue light interferes with the production of melatonin. Apple’s strategic move garnered widespread recognition and put the focus on blue light—a close relative of Ultraviolet (UV) light. If the light is powerful enough to interfere with sleep cycles, doesn’t it follow that it would injure eyes with prolonged exposure?
No, that rationale doesn’t hold. Instead, fear of blue light gave rise to a multi-million dollar industry—protective eyewear. Many ophthalmologists advise against spending on the eyewear gimmick. The sun is the largest emitter of blue light and with no ill effects. Your time is better spent focusing on practical strategies to reduce eye strain.
Protect Your Kid's Eyes
In the COVID-19 era, it’s reasonable to give your kids strategies to reduce digital eyestrain.
Set a timer. Whether a kitchen timer or a smart device, use it to remind your child to take a break every 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, shift your focus to something far away. Use the time to stretch your legs and move around.
Alternate reading an e-book with an actual book. Even easier—just shut your eyes for 20 seconds.
Keep laptops at arm’s length, 1 1/2 - 2 feet. Keep the screen at eye level.
Use eye drops or “artificial tears” if your eyes get dry
Pay attention to the ambiance. Bright light behind your screen causes squinting and ultimately headaches.
Set the brightness and contrast on your devices for your comfort
Do not use a device outside in intense sunlight
No electronic devices before bedtime! Focus on good sleep hygiene and shut the screens off at least an hour before crawling into bed.
With an understanding of eye strain, a timer, and proper lighting, you can prevent the ailments of eye strain before they begin. Do so, and your child will be no worse for wear in this topsy-turvy virtual/hybrid world.
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Sources and Further Reading
Broida, Rick. “Is Night Shift Really Helping You Sleep Better?” CNET, CNET, 5 Mar. 2018, http://www.cnet.com/how-to/turns-out-apples-night-shift-feature-might-not-be-helping-you-sleep/
“Do Blue Light Blocking Glasses Actually Work?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 17 Sept. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/do-blue-light-blocking-glasses-actually-work/.
Mull, Amanda. “The Bogus Science Behind Instagram's New Glasses Trend.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Nov. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/11/blue-blocking-glasses-instagram/575965/.
Pierce, Shanley. “Debunking Blue Light Glasses Claims to Focus on Proven Eye Issues.” TMC News, Texas Medical Center, 29 Jan. 2020, www.tmc.edu/news/2020/01/debunking-blue-light-glasses-claims-to-focus-on-proven-eye-issues/.
Publishing, Harvard Health. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 12 May 2012, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side. Updated July 2020
Yanoga, Fatoumata. “Does Blue Light from Electronic Devices Damage Our Eyes?” Ohio State Medical Center, Wexner Medical Center, 13 June 2019, wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/blue-light-and-vision.