Four ways digital screens impact eye health & how to protect your eyes
By Dr. Giovanna Olivares, OD, FAAO; Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Director & Staff Writer
Today, the average adult spends a whopping 13+ hours daily on digital devices—a 35% increase since 2019.1 It’s hardly surprising—from smartphones to tablets, computers to televisions, screens are everywhere. They've become our entertainment, how we communicate with friends and family, and our tool for navigating the world. While these devices can be useful and entertaining, they can also take a toll on our eye health. Here are four ways that digital screens can impact our eyes and what we can do to protect them:
1. Eye strain
Our eyes focus, in part, by using little muscles to change the shape of a lens inside your eye. When we focus on any one object for a long period of time, those muscles can feel strained. You can think of it a bit like standing for too long. Eventually your legs get tired and you want to sit. That strain is one reason staring at a screen for long periods of time can cause discomfort, fatigue, headaches, blurry vision and even double vision. There are several more potential causes, including the inability to focus well, screen glare, poor screen contrast, poor coordination between your two eyes, and sitting too close or too far from screens. Uncorrected astigmatism, farsightedness, and presbyopia may also cause eye strain when using digital screens.
- Take frequent breaks and follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.
- For glare, position your screen away from windows and bright lights, use an anti-glare screen filter, adjust the screen height to be 15°-20° below your line of sight, and adjust your screen's brightness and contrast to match your surroundings.
- Vision can change over time. Schedule yearly eye exams to make sure that you have the right prescription with your contacts or glasses.
2. Dry eyes
Do you know how often you blink? Blinking tends to be something we do without thinking about it, but it plays a role in your vision and eye comfort, and when we stare at screens, we blink up to 60% less. Since blinking is what helps keep our eyes moist, this can lead to dry eyes. Also, the tear film of the eye helps keep vision clear, so in addition to discomfort, dry eye can contribute to blurry vision.
Prevention tip: Practice blinking more often and use artificial tears if needed. Follow the 20-20-20 rule; Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
3. Blue-violet light exposure
Digital screens give off high energy, short-wavelength, blue and violet light. While the largest source of blue-violet light is actually the sun, there is concern from scientists and citizens alike that exposure to these rays from LEDs and screens may affect your vision and impact your sleep. Even so, there’s no scientific consensus on the matter yet, so for now, be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns.
Something to consider: Blue-violet light filtering glasses or screen filters are a widely available option.
Extensive time spent on near work, including focusing on digital screens, books, and other up-close objects, could be a risk factor for myopia development in children.2 Prevention tip: Taking frequent breaks and spending more time outside3, have been established as important for delaying or slowing myopia development. Regular eye exam can help detect or diagnose myopia, and track progression.
These days, screens are a fact of life, but the impact on your eyes doesn’t have to be. In addition to the tips above, don’t forget to get regular eye exams to ensure that your eyes are healthy and functioning properly.
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- Eyesafe estimate based upon Nielsen Q3 2019 Total Audience Report.
- Huang HM, Chang DS, Wu PC. The Association between Near Work Activities and Myopia in Children-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2015 Oct 20;10(10):e0140419
- Wu PC, Chen CT, Lin KK, et al. Myopia Prevention and Outdoor Light Intensity in a School-Based Cluster Randomized Trial. Ophthalmology 2018;125:1239-50.