Is your smartphone ruining your vision? Bradenton ophthalmologists offer tips for safely using digital devices

Herald Health CorrespondentMarch 25, 2014 

In a 2012 survey, it found that 70 percent of adults in the United States experience digital eyestrain while using electronic devices. METROMIX STOCK ART

Bradenton ophthalmologists offer tips for safely using digital devices

Have eyes ever worker harder? Once upon a time, digital screen time was limited. Computers were desktops that stayed at the office. But now there are smart phones, e-readers, laptops and tablets. Reading online or watching a video is an everywhere activity -- and judging by the number of people engrossed in their smart phones, can be a constant part of the day.

The fallout is dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches, neck and back pain. The Vision Council, an eye-care industry organization, calls the symptoms digital eyestrain.

In a 2012 survey, it found that 70 percent of adults in the United States experience digital eyestrain while using electronic devices. Thirty-two percent of users spend six to nine hours each day on their electronic devices; 28 percent spend 10 hours or more per day.

Bradenton ophthalmologist Scott Wan of Eye Associates hears the complaints frequently.

"They definitely complain about eye fatigue," said Wan.

People may not realize that a large part of the problem is how using digital devices causes eyes to dry out, he said. Dry eyes can hurt and they become irritated.

"You tend not to blink when looking at a screen and that means your eyes aren't being refreshed with moisture," he said.

"When you're reading from a book, there will be less blinking, too," said Wan. "But unlike a book, a screen is emitting thermal energy and light energy that increases the evaporation of your tears."

Glare from a digital screen is another factor in eye fatigue.

Wan recommends a 20-20-20 rule for getting some relief. Look up from the device every 20 minutes and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

"It's a good way to relax the eye muscles so you're not straining," he said. "And the simple act of blinking more when working on a computer will help."

Small screen reading

Constant use of a smart phone's small screen for reading articles or going online brings its own challenges. Wan noticed the difference when he recently had to rely on his smart phone while moving and his desktop computer was packed.

"It was very easy to do all my stuff, like banking, from my phone. But I could definitely tell my eyes got more dried and fatigued. I even resorted to using eye drops," said Wan.

According to a 2011 research study, the way people hold smart phones to read or watch video may be a large contributor for eyestrain.

On average, people hold printed reading material about 16 inches from their faces. They hold smart phones as close as eight inches, even though the average text size is the same as newspaper print.

When eyes try to focus up close and zoom in, the muscle that controls focusing must contract and the result is more eyestrain, said Jeffery Davis, an ophthalmologist with Manatee Sarasota Eye Clinic.

Conflicting reports

Although some studies have suggested that increased use of electronic devices may be a contributor for a rise in near-sightedness, later published reports haven't found a correlation, said Davis.

In Asia, smart phones and electronic devices have been blamed for an increase in near-sightedness among children, said Davis. Children's eyes are still developing.

"With children, limiting use is good … but there's not a good study to say that (electronic devices) necessarily cause near-sightedness," he said.

On the other hand, smart phones have a silver lining for aging baby boomers, said Davis.

"It's good because they can change the type. As they are becoming presbyopic (unable to read without glasses), they can up the font size and not strain the eye muscle."

Tips

Here are suggestions from the Vision Council on how to make using smart phones and other electronic devices easier for the eyes:

• Hold a smart phone with the viewing angle below eye level; enlarge font size for comfortable viewing and hold device at a safe distance from the eye.

• Consider seeing an eye doctor about computer glasses that improve middle-distance vision for computer work.

• Adjust brightness and consider changing background color to a cool gray.

• Frequently dust and clean screens to reduce glare.

• Place a computer monitor within arm's length. With the correct distance, you should be able to "high-five" the screen.

• Remind yourself to blink more.

Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at shemmingway@hotmail.com.

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