According to several recent international studies, telehealth practitioners and their employers can implement simple steps to minimize eye strain and reduce associated screen fatigue. A leading contributor to “zoom fatigue,” screen fatigue is caused by digital eye strain associated with the increasing use of smartphones, tablets, or computers to work, relax, shop, or stay connected.
Digital Eye Strain Problem Multiplies During COVID-19
According to a Nielsen survey, the COVID-19 pandemic increased daily average screen time from 10 hours to 13 hours. The increasing screen time and blue light exposure have caused a range of ocular and visual complications associated with digital eye strain. The severity of the issue has sparked international concern. An Indian study warns of a digital eye strain epidemic after the pandemic among students.
Another Saudi study reported a direct association between stay-at-home practices and digital eye strain symptoms during the pandemic. According to an Egyptian research report, digital eye strain is fast emerging as an occupational and public health hazard forcing more people to seek medical care for headaches, vision problems, and other ocular issues. The Ocular Surface journal reported a 2020 US research report that linked increased screen time to worsening dry eye-related visual issues and reduced work-related efficiency on digital devices.
Digital Eye-Strain Repercussions
A number of studies have listed digital eye strain as a factor in dry eye symptoms, nearsightedness, retina damage, macular degeneration, mood changes, sleep disruption, and neck and shoulder pain. Children, teens, and working professionals face increased vulnerability unless they utilize safe screen time habits.
7 Tips To Reduce Digital Eye Strain
Identify warning signs before digital eye strain overtakes your life. Noting red flags including headaches, red, irritated, and dry eyes, eye strain, neck pain, and blurred vision can help prompt a change in screen viewing habits well before symptoms increase. Knowing symptoms also ensures a conscious decision to address problems related to eye dryness, reading or viewing posture, screen time, screen positioning, lighting, underlying vision issues, and the placement of digital devices.
- The American Optometric Association suggests positioning computer screens 4 to 5 inches lower than the eyes and keeping a distance of 20 to 30 inches to reduce the effect of blue light. Thirty inches is much further than most people realize. If an adult fully extends an arm, their fingertips will typically be more than 30 inches away. When typing, one should keep reference materials below the screen but above the keyboard to avoid frequent head repositioning.
- Take frequent rest breaks. Use the 20-20-20 rule advocated by the American Optometric Association. It involves taking “a 20-second digital-screen break after every 20-minutes of screen time to look at an object 20 feet away.” A 2020 Indonesian study found a significant reduction of digital eye strain in those following the 20-20-20 rule. Alternatively, one can take a 15-minute screen break every hour to engage in activities away from digital devices. While healthcare practitioners may not have the luxury of taking this amount of time away from a screen, shorter breaks are recommended.
- Good computer lighting can involve a number of factors. Use blue-light-blocking technology, including antiglare glasses, anti-reflective screen guards, and screen filters. However, antiglare glasses prevent glare from entering one’s eyes but also reflect that glare out to the viewer. Antiglare filters in a lens will make it much more difficult for clients and patients to use video conferencing equipment to see each other’s eyes. Smartphones now have “night mode” or “reading mode” to prevent blue rays of digital devices from straining eyes. If available, using the “night-mode” built into computer lighting is also suggested during evening hours. While buying new devices, check to see if they have embedded blue-light-filtering technology to reduce digital eye strain associated with increased screen time.
- A comprehensive eye exam every year is recommended to avoid the effects of digital eye strain. An Australian research report claims that “pre-existing eye problems, including myopia, astigmatism, and adaptive disorders, can contribute to the appearance of the syndrome if they are not adequately addressed or have not yet been diagnosed.” Identifying and addressing vision problems can help reduce the effects of rising screen time.
- Lighting and screen clarity are vital to fighting digital eye strain. When your eyes have to focus intensely on the screen, it makes them tired and irritates them, leading to computer vision syndrome. Adjusting the overhead light to reduce brightness and increase comfort by eliminating harsh indoor lights may help. A desk lamp with a lower-wattage bulb provides more comfortable lighting than overhead lights.
- Take care of your eyes. Prolonged screen time is inversely associated with reduced eye blinking. The lack of frequent blinking prevents tear drainage and miniaturization of the eye surface, giving dry eyes. You can prevent digital eye strain by increasing blinking, lubricating eyes, treating ocular allergies, and keeping the ambiance humid. The simple act of shifting off and blinking to lubricate the eyes can be helpful. Drinking more fluids also helps.
The risk of digital eye strain is a real threat as people navigate their lives through the virtual world. Since the start of the pandemic, screen time has significantly increased internationally. By being mindful of a few key eye-strain and more general “zoom fatigue” prevention strategies, you can decrease damage to your eyes, neck, and shoulders. Self-awareness and self-care reign supreme, especially in this digital age.
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