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Too Much Screen Time: Digital Eye Strain and How to Combat It

There's no denying it: Our lives are becoming more and more digitized. And while technology brings enormous convenience, it also comes with some drawbacks, and one of them is its effect on our eyes.

Whether it's a computer, a TV, a tablet, or a smartphone, our eyes now have to stare at harshly lit screens for hours each day. Many people now deal with digital eye strain, also called computer vision syndrome, a condition characterized by sore or irritated eyes, blurred vision, and neck pain. Today, 65 percent of Americans have symptoms of digital eye strain, with 90 percent of this group spending at least two hours each day in front of some sort of screen.

How do you know if you may be dealing with this condition so you can take action sooner rather than later? And what can you do to prevent your symptoms from worsening?

Know the Signs

First, it's important to fully understand what digital eye strain is and what its symptoms are. The condition is caused by the increased demands that computer screens place on our eyes. Because these screens are typically small and emit hard, blue light, your eyes need to work harder to maintain your vision.

The problem gets worse with smartphones and tablets because their screens are even smaller, which causes most people to instinctively hold these devices closer to their face. At this range, your eyes face a greater challenge to focus on those tiny pixels that appear on the screen.

Interestingly, the condition is also connected with neck, shoulder, and back pain. Since we typically use digital devices while sitting or hunching forward, we often force our joints to maintain unnatural and uncomfortable positions.

It's also important to note that computer screens aren't the only problem. The same potentially damaging light is also emitted by the fluorescent bulbs that are so commonly used in modern offices. This only compounds the problems caused by digital eye strain.

First, See Your Doctor

Despite the fact that nearly 65 percent of Americans experience this type of eye strain, 90 percent of Americans don't talk to their doctor about the dangers of their digital device usage. This means that the problem is going largely untreated -- while the cause, our constant exposure to screens, is only becoming more widespread.

If you start to experience any symptoms of computer vision syndrome, talk about them with your doctor, especially if you already have other vision issues.

What You Can Do

With your doctor on board, there are several steps you can take to both prevent and treat digital eye strain. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use computer glasses. Available in both prescription and nonprescription versions, these glasses generally feature an anti-glare coating that can shield your eyes from the damaging light emitted by all those screens. Your doctor can help to recommend lenses that would be especially useful for you.
  • Blink more. This one might feel a little silly, but it's incredibly important. Blinking refreshes and lubricates your eyes, and under normal circumstances, you do it about 15 times per minute. But you only blink about 5 or 6 times per minute when you're looking at a computer, and this can leave your eyes dry and irritated.
  • Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something at least 20 feet away. This will allow your eyes to focus on something in the distance and help them to relax.
  • Stretch. Remember, part of dealing with this condition is potentially facing neck, shoulder, and back pain, as well. To combat this, perform a few stretches periodically throughout the day. It's also important to use proper posture and take regular breaks from sitting.

Digital eye strain is a real problem today, but here's the good news: Using some of these techniques, you can be proactive right now and start mitigating the negative effects of constant screen exposure.

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