71% of Americans report they have not discussed their digital device usage with their eyecare provider
It’s a digital world. Regardless of age, occupation or lifestyle, many of us are unknowingly exposing our eyes to harmful blue light. Think about how many screens surround us daily. They are just about everywhere we look, from televisions, laptops, computers and cell phones, to even the smart watches found on so many wrists. Additional advancements in technology are introduced daily, so we can expect even more screens to appear in cars, homes and workplaces. Wherever we look, we cannot escape the fact that screen usage now represents so much of our average day. But what does that mean for our vision?
Digital Eye Strain (DES) is generally defined as physical discomfort after screen use for longer than two hours at a time. Symptoms may include blurry vision, headaches, dry eyes, neck and back pain and even sleep disruption!
THE STARTLING FACTS
The Vision Council reports that more than 83% of Americans report using digital devices for more than two hours per day, and 53.1% report using two digital devices simultaneously, with 60.5% reporting experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain.
Many people are unaware of the solutions available to combat digital eye strain – 71% of Americans report they have not discussed their digital device usage with their eyecare provider, and 72.6% reported they did not know eyewear can be used to protect the eyes from short- and long-term effects of digital eye strain, according to The Vision Council.
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR
Digital eye strain is becoming a family affair, affecting all age groups. The following age groups report using digital devices for more than two hours per day:
• 87.7% of those ages 18 to 39
• 83.6% of those ages 40 to 59
• 76.3% of those ages 60 and up
And 83% of Millennials keep their smartphones active day and night!
HEALTHY VS. HARMFUL
When it comes to understanding digital devices and blue light, there are two different types of blue light to compare. The first type is the healthy kind that helps to regulate our circadian sleep rhythm. It helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods and increase feelings of well-being. This blue light is the healthy type and is what we all need to help lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
The second one is the harmful type that has been suggested to be a leading cause of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other hazardous ocular disorders. Thinking in terms of the visible light spectrum (ROY-G-BIV), blue light occurs between 380 nanometers to 500 nanometers. A nanometer (nm) is measured as one-billionth of a meter and is what we use to measure a wavelength of light. What we are talking about when we discuss blue light is principally known as high energy visible (HEV) light. It is the violet/blue band of the color spectrum, and it exists everywhere and all around us, regardless of whether we are indoors or outside.
Unhealthy blue light falls between 380nm and 470nm, while the healthier kind is closer to the 470nm to 500nm range. When outside, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere and actually emits the largest amount of blue light. Inside, blue light wavelengths can be found in fluorescent lights, LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs and through the emission of electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptop computer screens.
The shorter the wavelength, the effects of the light wave are stronger and can cause eye fatigue. Blue light, compared to the other colors of the spectrum, has a shorter wavelength of visible light, emitting a higher energy and penetrating deeper into the eye. This can cause flickering in vision from overexposure. Numerous researchers have begun to connect this hidden unhealthy blue light exposure with AMD, cataracts and the suppression of the body’s natural release of melatonin, which is particularly important for sleep.
SING THE BLUES IN YOUR PRACTICE
With the prevalence of digital screens in our world, it is important to discuss blue light and digital eye strain with all your patients. Make it a part of your health questionnaire, and discuss digital usage with all your patients (especially parents when doing pediatric exams).
Questions should include how much time patients spend on all digital devices per day and if they are experiencing any symptoms of digital eye strain? Train your staff to be aware of symptoms and recommendations to alleviate digital eye strain.
Provide solutions. Make the following recommendations:
• Follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking a 20-second break from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.
• Reduce overhead lighting to eliminate screen glare.
• Position yourself at arm’s distance away from the screen for proper viewing distance when at a computer.
• Increase text size on devices to better define content on the screen.
• Turn off digital devices one to two hours before bed.
Recommend eyewear with digital eye strain-reducing capabilities. Individuals don’t have to sacrifice style for function when it comes to eyewear. These specialized lenses can be incorporated into virtually any pair of frames, so individuals can choose eyewear that complements their personal look, while simultaneously meeting their eye health needs.