Treating the digital eye

March 4, 2016
Encourage patients to unplug to ease digital eyestrain.

Digital devices—now more than ever—are becoming an integral part of our daily lives. "Near work" is the norm in classrooms, increasingly, but chances are patients of all ages are guilty of spending too much time in front of screens outside of class, too. Today is National Day of Unplugging—and unplugging is just one of many ways you can help patients ease the effects of digital eyestrain.

If you're seeing the effects in your practice, you're not alone. Nicholas Feipel, O.D., who practices in Indiana, notes that digital eyestrain affects approximately 90% of people who spend three or more hours per day with a digital device, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. And because the average U.S. worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home, this year AOA's Save Your Vision Month campaign is encouraging both employees and employers to make eye health a priority.

The condition isn't just affecting adults. "Eighty-three percent of children report using an electronic device more than three hours daily, while only 40% of parents think their kids exceed that mark," says Dr. Feipel, citing the AOA's American Eye-Q® survey results.

The trouble is that digital eyestrain may come with headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck pain and double vision, among other symptoms. Sarah Hinkley, O.D., professor at the Ferris State University of Michigan College of Optometry, adds, "Symptoms may also include double vision and lack of the eyes working as a team. Underlying issues with binocular vision, accommodation, dryness or others may be enhanced or become symptomatic after computer use."

Tips for treating the digital eye

Beyond sharing messages of reducing screen use, how should doctors of optometry treat patients who report these symptoms? Keeping up with lens technology is a start.

"Glasses that relieve accommodative strain and encourage appropriate head posture, reduce glare and protect the eyes from blue light are a good treatment strategy. Such options may include single-vision or computer or occupational progressive addition lenses," Dr. Hinkley says.

Dr. Feipel adds that though blue light is nothing new, it has become more of a concern with increasing device use.

"Most of the major advances in combatting blue light are anti-reflective lens treatments. These lenses reduce the amount of blue light entering the eye as well as reducing glare." Dr. Feipel says. But he cautions against tinted lenses that completely block blue light from the eye, noting that the eyes actually still need blue light, both physiologically and for color perception.

Newer lens technology is designed to block only a portion of blue light. "These lenses are a practical option because the lenses remain clear and offer some of the best blue light protection available while reducing glare," he says.

Other suggestions center around behavior modification. Tell patients to try to increase the font size on the device if needed, match the screen's luminosity to the room's luminosity, adjust the monitor height on a computer so it is slightly below eye level, eliminate glare from nearby windows and frequently blink.

"When we look at a screen, our blink rate drops significantly. Blinking helps to lubricate the eyes, which keeps them comfortable and allows for clear vision," says Dr. Feipel. Sometimes it's a matter of consciously forcing yourself to fully open and close the eye—something patients are actually less likely to do when they are engrossed in digital work.

Related News

Tackling TBI

Optometrists play an integral role in assessing and treating patients with traumatic brain injuries.

Primary care of the stroke patient

Two case studies illustrate why primary eye care providers should know the symptoms of stroke and understand the range of visual rehabilitation therapies.

Research on eye aberrations not abstract to award-winning scientists

For the sixth consecutive year, the AOA is sponsoring the Investigator Initiated Research Award. Investigators are invited to electronically submit proposals by June 15 for projects designed to increase knowledge through basic clinical and/or translational science related to the continuum of eye and vision care. Jason Marsack, Ph.D., talks about the work he and his collaborators are currently pursuing in the laboratory.