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3 Ways You Can Save Your Vision From Digital Screens

09/01/2015 12:28 EDT | Updated 09/01/2016 05:59 EDT
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Times are changing quickly and Canadians are using technology more frequently than ever before. This has enormous positive impact on our personal and professional lives -- but what is it doing to our eyes?

We're becoming more knowledgeable about the impact blue light has on our health and we know exposure will only increase over time. For example, more than 50 per cent of readers now consume news via mobile, debit and credit cards are giving way to the e-wallet and now we can browse the aisles of a grocery store minus the cart at the click of a button.

For those unfamiliar with the term, blue light is part of the visible light spectrum that reaches deeper into the eye and its cumulative effect can cause damage to the retina. Sources of blue light include the sun, digital screens, electronic devices and fluorescent and LED lighting. Blue light can be known to cause eyestrain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause retinal damage and contribute to age-related macular degeneration, which could lead to loss of vision. Blue light may also have an impact on the sleep cycle by disrupting melatonin production at night making it more difficult to fall asleep. In fact, some researchers are now recommending no screen time one hour before bed.

Digital eye strain is one thing, but the effects of blue light are cumulative, and can lead to more serious eye diseases. This is an important issue. The Ontario Association of Optometrists released a white paper, Optimizing Optometry's Role in Ontario, reporting that the direct and indirect costs of vision loss add up to $7.3 billion for Ontario annually.

Further, more than 69 per cent of Canadians fear vision loss more than any other disability, but we continue to neglect our eyes. Affected patients are visiting optometrists only AFTER eye conditions have worsened significantly -- it's time to be proactive about our eye health.

Here are my top three tips for maintaining optimal eye health in a digital world.

1) Consider how many hours a day you're spending connected to a screen.

On average, Canadian youth spend six hours a day and more than seven hours on weekends in front of a screen. Even more prominent is the finding that kids aged two to 10 years old are averaging two hours a day of screen time. This is where computer vision syndrome (CVS) comes in. Spending long hours in front of the screen means your eyes are exerting extra effort to maintain a clear image when viewing your screen, which can lead to symptoms like headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, eye irritation, double vision, excessive tearing, dry eyes, eye pain, or excessive blinking.

What to do? Follow the 20/20/20 rule. It's important to take a break from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds by looking 20 feet away.

2) Consider your distance from screens.

This concept is similar to when you were a kid and your parents warned you that sitting too close to the television was bad for your eyes. Even people with perfect vision may experience symptoms such as blurred vision, eyestrain and headaches with prolonged digital screen use.

What to do? Give yourself an arm's length from your screen, and if possible, position it 15-20 degrees below eye level.

3) Make little changes to your work habits for the benefit of your eyes.

There are a few tools that you can use to help minimize the impact of blue light on your eyes. First, try and use an anti-reflective screen protector to help minimize glare or reflected light. If you don't want to add a screen coating, glasses with a blue blocking coating can be purchased. In addition:

  • Set colour, contrast and font size to suit your eyes
  • Keep your screen free of fingerprints and dust
  • Remember to blink!
  • Finally, don't forget the 20/20/20 rule. It's important to relax your eyes every 20 minutes by looking away from your screen for only 20 seconds.

In Ontario, we're lucky to have a wealth of optometrists across the province. Eye health and quality of vision issues can impact every Canadian, and optometrists are the first point of contact for people in need of eye health care and eye wear.

Regular comprehensive eye exams are the first step in early detection, prevention and treatment of eye-related conditions. And they're important at each stage in life, from infants, to grade-schoolers, to grandparents.

Make a visit to your optometrist part of your health routine. We're here for you, and we can do more to protect your eyes.

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