Ben Squires


Tue, 29 Dec, 2015

Are screens ruining our eyes?

Are screens ruining our eyes?

It's an all too familiar sight. At work, home, or even waiting for the bus, most of the people around you typically have their faces buried in a screen.

This isn't really all that surprising. Most of us carry a smartphone, we use computers at work and we unwind after work by watching TV.

In short, we spend an unprecedented amount of time staring at screens.

According to tech website, Indonesians spend nine hours a day staring at screens and Americans spend 7.4 hours.

Increasing amounts of screen time are causing a sharp rise in digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. 

Saumia Thomas, the manager of OPSM in Willis St, Wellington, 63 per cent of adults report digital eye strain. Yet most of us are unaware of its potential dangers.

I'd begun to get irritable eyes, headaches, and frequently found myself squinting at small fonts, struggling to concentrate.

It turns out that these are all classic symptoms of what is known as "computer vision syndrome". Spending a little Google time investigating this also yielded some worrying facts.

While no-one is 100 per cent certain about the long-term effects of spending so much time staring at screens, evidence is emerging that because many screens emit HEV light (high energy visible light), they may be harming our eyes. HEV light is the part of the visible spectrum and is made up of light with short wavelengths.

Studies have shown ongoing exposure to HEV light can damage tissue in the retina and this damage can be similar to macular degeneration.

Detractors argue that it is difficult to attribute HEV-specific damage solely to screens. They say that because HEV light is also emitted by the sun, and LED light bulbs, HEV light related eye damage may be due to more than just screens. Others argue that people don't spend ages staring at the sun, or at LED lights. Debate still rages.

It turns out that the amount of HEV a person receives depends on a multitude of factors, including the screen's technology, the size of the screen, its brightness, your distance from it,  and how long you spend staring at it.

It also appears that smartphones with their small screens could potentially be causing more HEV light related damage than TVs.

HEV light aside, studies have also shown that the way we interact with screens could also be a contributing factor in digital vision fatigue.

When we stare zombie-like at the television, our PCs or phones, we tend to open our eyelids wider and blink less. More worrying is the fact hat we spend considerable periods of time focusing on screens that at a fixed distance.

This is also thought to be a key factor in rising levels of nearsightedness.

After getting my eyes tested at OPSM, my test results proved enlightening. It turned out that like many my age, I needed reading glasses.

Some tissue damage was also found, although it was minor. My symptoms were typical of digital fatigue, which, according to Thomas, can include "symptoms like tired eyes, or trouble staying focused, neck, shoulder or back pain, headaches, blurred vision and dry or scratchy sensation". 

I was prescribed a pair of reading glasses that were designed to reduce eye strain and digital fatigue. According to Thomas, they reduce the amount of effort required by my eyes to stay focused.

The upshot of this being that  even after several hours of screen time I still feel focused and fresh. The glasses also use Prevencia lenses, which filter out HEV light. Interestingly, they should in theory also help minimise the effect of blue light on my sleep patterns.  Either way, they're a total game changer. Small text is readable. Headaches, tiredness and sore eyes are a thing of the past.

I can't believe I put off getting my  eyes  tested for so long.


1. Keep a comfortable working distance from your computer's screen – you should ideally be about an arm's length away from the screen.

2. If using a phone, keep its screen an arms length away from your eyes. Doing his means less eye strain, also, be sure that small fonts are large enough for comfortable viewing (if needed use the pinch-to-zoom feature).

3. Take a micro-break every 20 minutes, and look off into the distance — making sure your gaze is on an object that is 5-10 metres away. This will relax the muscles that focus your eyes. Remember to blink too, it keeps the surface of your eyes moist.

4. If you find that you are suffering from the same symptoms as me, get your eyes checked. It's simple to do and can make a huge difference.

5. If you find that you need glasses, ask about eyewear that can block blue light and reduce digital fatigue. Lenses with optical coatings designed to block blue and UV light will reduce your exposure to HEV light when using digital devices.

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