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Digital devices often feature small print and pixelated images that can be difficult to read and cause our eyes to strain to focus.

Today, most individuals spend an enormous time staring at devices or screens.

A major part of our waking lives is spent in front of a computer. Multiple surveys document that Malaysian digital consumers are spending an average of almost 14 hours a day on digital devices with 87 per cent of them on the Internet. But what effect is all this screen time having on our eyesight?

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of digital screens. A variety of electronic devices can cause digital eye strain, including televisions, desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, e-readers, tablets, and gaming systems, especially when they are used simultaneously or when switching repetitively from one device to another. Studies indicate 72 to 76 per cent of digital users have features suggestive of CVS.

Digital screens expose the eyes to blue light. This can decrease contrast leading to digital eyestrain. Digital devices often feature small print and pixelated images that can be difficult to read and cause our eyes to strain r to focus. We may also be using the devices improperly by holding them at the wrong angle or too far from our eyes. 

Fatigue, dry eyes, bad lighting, or how you sit in front of the computer can all cause eyestrain. Symptoms of eye strain include sore or irritated eyes and difficulty focusing. Studies have found that with the increased usage of smartphones, iPads, and laptops, there has been an increase in the development of dry eyes due to a decreased blink rate.

The blue light emitted by screens also restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls the sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm thereby interfering with both sleep quality and quantity.

Worldwide, eye care providers are concerned about the potentially damaging effects of high-energy visible (HEV) light emitted by digital devices because laboratory and animal studies have shown exposure to high levels of HEV light can damage tissue in the retina of the eye in a way that appears consistent with retinal changes associated with macular degeneration, a leading cause of permanent vision loss in older human adults.

Because they emit HEV light (also called blue light), staring at phone and tablet screens may actually harm our eyes permanently. HEV light is that portion of the visible light spectrum that comprises light with the shortest wavelengths, which carry the greatest potential to damage living tissue.

Useful recommendations to decrease exposure to blue light and thereby reduce the risk of digital strain and potential retinal damage:

REDUCE SCREEN TIME AND TAKE A “20-20”20” BREAK Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. Even short breaks make a huge difference.

SMART-SCREEN “EYEGONOMICS” Position your device so there is sufficient distance (20 to 26 inches) between your eyes and the screen. Place your device a little below eye level.

FILTERS Change your lighting to lower glare and harsh reflections. Glare filters over your digital screens can also help.

SPECTACLES /ANTI-REFLECTIVE LENSES Lenses prescribed to meet the unique visual demands of computer viewing may be needed. Superior lens designs, lens powers or lens tints or coatings may help to maximise visual abilities and comfort. Anti-reflective/ yellow-tinted lenses reduce glare and increase contrast and also block blue light from digital devices.

BLINK MORE OFTEN Staring at a digital screen can reduce how often you blink, causing eyes to become dry. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist. Remind yourself to blink more often, which also helps the eyes refocus.

PALMING Rubbing your palms and placing them gently over the closed eyes is often very relaxing

Little efforts towards eye care can deliver immeasurable benefits.

The writer is a consultant ophthalmologist at Taylor’s Clinical School,  School of Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Taylor’s University

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